By Cole Parkinson
I’ve seen my share of embarrassing Toronto Maple Leafs losses in my life but Saturday night was a brand new low.
Losing to the Carolina Hurricanes and David Ayres, a 42-year-old beer league goalie who also happens to drive the Zamboni for the Toronto Marlies, has already become the new ‘1967’ for non-Leafs fans.
And the Maple Leafs absolutely deserve everything that has come since that embarrassing performance.
Ayres faced 10 shots in total over the 28 minutes he was in the Carolina Hurricanes’ crease, the first two of which found the back of the net.
After John Tavares and Pierre Engvall scored in the second period, I like many Leafs fans thought the team would have no problem beating a team with a 42-year-old goaltender who had never played in the NHL.
And that’s when the Leafs decided that wasn’t going to be the case.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have lost in so many embarrassing ways during my 24 years that I shouldn’t have been shocked they would also lose this way.
Have they lost more meaningful games in worse fashions?
Of course, just look at any Game 7 against Boston since 2013 but in those games, they at least lost to full NHL rosters.
This one is going to burn for quite some time and since it’s the Toronto Maple Leafs, hockey fans are never going to let Leafs fans forget about it.
I’ve grown accustomed to every chirp under the sun when it comes to the Leafs but this is one that there is no comeback to.
The third period was absolutely horrific to watch if you are a Leafs fan.
Toronto was completely dominated by the Canes, who were no doubt doing their absolute best to protect their new goalie from facing any grade-A chances and they succeeded.
The Leafs were content to pass the puck from the outside and not take any shots even though they scored on the first two that Ayers faced.
Does this sound like a winning formula for any NHL team facing a non-NHL goalie?
Auston Matthews even dared to say to the media after the game “…when you have an emergency goalie come into the game, I think the consensus is to shoot the puck as much as possible.”
So why did you not do that in the game?
They knew they had to shoot the puck as much as possible but decided not to because this team is a mess.
And don’t even get me started with Mitch Marner’s comments around how the team had yet another embarrassing performance.
I think coach Sheldon Keefe summed it up beautifully when he said “if we don’t change how we’re playing, they don’t even need a goalie. There’s no chances, there was no shots, there’s nothing happening. They didn’t need a goaltender the way game was going.”
That being said, congrats to David Ayres.
The dude got to live out his dream in front of a packed Scotiabank Arena during Hockey Night in Canada, not many people can say they’ve done that.
From what it seemed like on TV, the crowd was more on Ayres’ side at the end of the game than their home team and I loved they game him multiple big ovations.
So the question now becomes what are the Maple Leafs going to do as we continue towards the NHL playoffs.
I know people have already jumped on the ‘Fire Kyle Dubas’ Twitter train, but what is the general manager supposed to do mid-season with a team that has zero heart, no real chemistry and a complete lack of effort and focus game to game.
Coming off their best game of the season in a 4-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, which was right after their worst game of the season against the same team, they could have built upon that success.
Instead, they decided to build upon their worst effort.
What else can be said about this team that hasn’t already been said?
They’re lucky the Florida Panthers have also found themselves in a stretch of bad games, otherwise, they wouldn’t be close to a playoff race.
I still think they make the playoffs but if they missed I wouldn’t be shocked one bit. Even if they make it to the dance, they’re going to either play Tampa Bay, Boston, Washington or Pittsburgh, all of which would be heavy favourites and rightly so.
And no other help is coming other than Calle Rosen who was traded for Michael Hutchinson at the trade deadline because the Leafs elected to make no real big shift to their team.
Rosen likely slots in as the seventh defenseman over Martin Marincin, which I think is an upgrade but let’s be honest, it isn’t likely going to propel this team to the Stanley Cup.
The only real big piece they could have shipped off would have been Tyson Barrie who is a Unristricted Free Agent at the end of the year and the Leafs, who are already tight to the cap will likely not be able to afford to keep him.
So Dubas and company are prepared to move forward with the team they have, and with Morgan Rielly due back from injury before the end of the year, they could be in worse shape. Cody Ceci is also due to return by the end of the season but from what I’ve seen from him, I’m not overly excited to see him back out there.
At this point, I think I’d rather continue to play Timothy Liljegren on the bottom pair but it sure feels like they’d rather have some experience on the backend before rushing the younger players.
Either way, there’s no way I’m letting my expectations get the best of me for this season.
There’s no win against any team that would get me to buy into them becoming a championship-contending team because they’ve continued to disappoint in that regard ever since Mike Babcock was fired.
I guess one positive is they looked really bad for the last half of last season but looked relatively good for the first six games against the Bruins before once again getting eliminated at TD Gardens.
Any team who makes the playoffs has a shot of winning the Stanley Cup, as long as they get hot at the right time, who knows maybe the Leafs make a run. But, I would highly suggest from what I’ve seen from this group in the 2019/2020 season, that is very unlikely.