Toronto's tweaks fail to pay off
Pens score three goals in final eight minutes of 3-1 win
TORONTO -- "Tweaking" was the word Randy Carlyle used.
The Toronto Maple Leafs had lost three straight games and were slipping down the standings, but the head coach did not believe the engine needed to be rebuilt just yet.
Rather, all it needed was a little fine-tuning, he said.
Whatever you want to call it, something clearly had to be done.
With the 18-wheeler slowly making its way off the cliff and panic starting to seep into the dressing room, Carlyle held a light practice on Wednesday, where the players shot around orange hockey balls instead of pucks.
A day later, he re-wrote the lineup. Goaltender Ben Scrivens started in place of James Reimer, defenceman John-Michael Liles played his first game in nearly a month and longtime linemates Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin were split up for the first time this season.
The type of game Toronto played was different. But the result was the same. The Leafs gave up three goals in the final eight minutes of the third period to lose 3-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins, stretching their losing streak to four games.
Scrivens made 25 saves, while Liles had four shots and logged nearly 16 minutes of ice time. But with the team nosediving down the standings, Carlyle now has to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to fix what's wrong.
Still, there was a lot to like about how the Leafs played. While the lineup tweaks were a big deal, they were not as important as the tweaks the players made in how they approached the game.
Part of the reason why last year's Leafs went off the rails and allowed a three-game losing streak to snowball into something much worse was because they forgot how to grind out a win.
On Thursday, the Leafs got back to the defensive game that made them so successful earlier this year. Toronto had scored six goals in its last three games, but the team had also allowed 13 during that span.
"With us and our situation, there were some areas where we could definitely improve," Carlyle said before the game. "It's not just puck moving. We've been giving up too many goals. The last time when Pittsburgh was in here, it was a 4-4 tie. If we score four goals, we should win."
The Leafs did not score four goals. But they also did not allow four. Instead, they played a cautious -- if not boring -- game.
After a scoreless first period, Tyler Bozak took advantage of a defensive breakdown by Pittsburgh to take a 1-0 lead and Toronto spent the rest of the game trying to lull its opponent to sleep.
The Penguins finally woke up in the third, with Pascal Dupuis scoring twice in five minutes on shots Scrivens had no chance on. Craig Adams added an empty-net, short-handed goal to seal the victory.
The one line Carlyle kept intact on Thursday was Tyler Bozak, Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk. There is a reason for that. While the Leafs have struggled, the top line continues to produce with nine goals and 16 points in the last six games. That trend continued Thursday, with Bozak converting a tic-tac-toe passing play with Cody Franson and Kessel to give Toronto a 1-0 lead in the second.
On Saturday, Sidney Crosby finished with a goal, an assist and scored the game-winner in the overtime shootout at the Air Canada Centre. Five days later, the Penguins captain and NHL's leading scorer (45 points) refused to stay silent, setting up a beautiful behind-the-back pass to Dupuis to tie the game in the third.
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