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Leafs barely visible while digging early hole against Ottawa

From The Star

OTTAWA—By 7:38 of the first period, the Maple Leafs were down three goals and coach Mike Babcock replaced James Reimer with Jonathan Bernier.

Now, if he could only have replaced the rest of the team.

That, perhaps, is a harsh assessment of the Maple Leafs’ effort Saturday night, a 6-1 loss to their provincial rival.

But not by much as Toronto forwards and defencemen left their goalies to their own devices, dug a hole and never got out. It was the Leafs’ worst loss since falling 7-0 to the Sharks in San Jose on Jan. 9. And it was the sixth time this season the Leafs lost by at least four goals.

Now, depending on your view, the glass is either half empty or half full. The many Leaf fans in attendance at the Air Canada Centre were boisterous in their early cheering for Toronto because beating Ottawa in Ottawa is always fun.

By the end, they were chanting “Let’s Go, Blue Jays.”

No one associated with Toronto would ever advocate losing to the Senators, who believe they can rejoin the playoff race if they can just string a few wins together. This might help kick-start that.

For Toronto, at least in the grand scheme of things, a loss is better. A finish at the bottom of the standings — and the fire-sale trades sure to come between now and then — will go further to actually replacing these players with better ones. These ones try hard, bless them, but they just aren’t good enough.

After two wins in a row, the Leafs were in danger of pulling out of a massive six-way tie for last place in the NHL. The race to the bottom, it would appear, is on.

The Senators, reeling with losses in 11 of their last 16 games, came out flying in the first period. The first half-dozen or so shifts featured 2-on-1s or breakaways as the Leafs left Reimer to fend for himself.

Ottawa had a 10-4 lead in shots early, eroded to 10-8 by the end of the first period.

Curtis Lazar led the Senators’ attack with two goals, and Erik Karlsson — under fire of late in Ottawa — had four assists. Mark Stone, Zach Smith, Mika Zibanejad and Bobby Ryan had the other goals.

P.A. Parenteau had the lone Leaf goal. The Leafs’ power play, which came into the game on a 1-for-33 funk, went 0-for-4.

GM Lou Lamoriello has already begun to tinker with the lineup, one that is now geared more towards trades than wins. That came to light when, in a curious move, the Leafs sent forward Rich Clune back to the Marlies. He had been playing well, praised regularly by Babcock.

“Business,” Babcock said. “I’m not going there.”

The move meant the Leafs had only 12 forwards, and Brad Boyes got back into the lineup after five straight games as a healthy scratch.

That’s the difference between the coach’s role and that of the general manager. Babcock wants to win. Lamoriello wants to build a winner.

Sitting Boyes was not in Lamoriello’s interest. He needs Boyes playing, being showcased, if you will, as the Leafs head toward the trade deadline. Boyes is one of the team’s many pending unrestricted free agents, and having him sit game after game does nothing for his trade value.

“I’m not looking at it like that at all,” Boyes said. “It’s been a while since I played. I’m really looking at playing, having fun, just help out.”

Leafs defenceman Frank Corrado got into his fourth game in a row after having been a healthy scratch most of the season.

“I think he skates good,” Babcock said. “He’s up on his gap. He makes good plays. He’s light, and not strong enough. Those are things we’ve been working with, ever since he arrived. He’s getting heavier and he’s getting stronger.

“He looks to me as if he has an opportunity to be a good player. He’s got to continue off ice on his strength. The more he plays, the more confidence he’s getting. He’ll be a good player for us.”

NOTES: Leafs centre Tyler Bozak was hit in the head in the first period, left the game and did not return . . . Martin Marincin was the only healthy scratch . . . The Leafs will practise at home on Monday, then resume this road trip through Western Canada and Chicago.

Source: Leafs barely visible while digging early hole against Ottawa

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