Although the feeling was that of the lowest point of the season, the Toronto Maple Leafs need and deserve to keep their heads held high after suffering their first loss of the early NHL season at the hands of the New York Islanders.
In a game where all players performed and continued to compete, the outcome was perhaps attributed a few “bad” calls and a lack of “puck luck”.
With veteran goaltender Dwayne Roloson resembling his 50 save performance from last season at the Air Canada Centre, the Leafs couldn’t solve the net-minder, at least until a controversial play off the stick of Kris Versteeg. In a call sending the crowd, and Leaf bench alike into a frenzy, it was the linesman behind the play who ruled Versteeg had high-sticked the puck to himself before swatting it behind Roloson. Head Coach Ron Wilson said he wouldn’t cry over spilled milk, but was quick to voice his displeasure of the officiating on the night.
“High stick is (measured at the) shoulder and it was ruled (a high stick) off the crossbar,” said Wilson. “I find it strange a linesman behind the play made the call and you’re not really sure if it was a high stick. It wasn’t. The puck wasn’t shoulder height.”
Obviously upset about the non-goal and the fact he couldn’t tie the game for his team, Kris Versteeg wasn’t about to waste the energy it would take to beat himself up over the play.
“You tell me,” Versteeg said. “If they saw it, then that’s what happened.”
The “puck luck” did sneak its way to the home team all be it briefly, as a Dion Phaneuf point shot was blocked and ended up on Phil Kessel’s stick, allowing the sniper to tie the game and record his 5th goal of the season, sending the game to overtime.
It was in that extra frame where another controversial call or lack there of sealed the fate of the Maple Leafs winning streak. It looked as if the officials had put away their whistles as Nik Kulemin was brought down in the neutral zone, and the play seemed to open up. Sneaking down low, Brett Lebda nudged the Islanders goaltender and seemingly tried to avoid the contact. However officials believed different and Lebda received a goaltender interference penalty sending the Islanders to the power play, eventually ending the game on a John Tavares one-timer.
“I thought they weren’t going to call anything, and that was a marginal call after you see (Nikolai) Kulemin get hauled down in the neutral zone off a faceoff,” said Wilson. “What are you going to do?”
Wilson refused to dwell on the officiating too much, and said he would rather encourage his team after a performance in which they still recorded the single point.
“I thought we played a very good game and in some instances we didn’t have any puck luck, and a couple of calls went completely against us.”
While it is hard to take away positives from any loss, Leaf players will do just that in a game they feel good about and believe a better fate was deserved. Although the effort was strong, perhaps the Islanders victory was to the credit of Dwayne Roloson in another strong Air Canada Centre performance.
“I don’t really care about how Dwayne Roloson plays, I care about how we play,” said Versteeg. “We battled back. That’s something we’ve got to learn to do. We had a few missed opportunities by our team. We controlled the whole game. It wasn’t really close.”
In a test of fortitude the Leafs will have to remain up-beat and continue the strong practice habits they deploy in preparation for Thursday night’s game against the New York Rangers. Anything less could result in an outcome to a lesser extent and see the Leafs point recording streak come to an abrupt halt.
About the Author
Written by RJ Emptage
Operations Manager of a retail chain in Southern Ontario (Sports Obsession). Specialize in licensed sports apparel and novelties (Visit sportsobsession.ca). Being from the Hamilton area I grew up and into a die-hard Toronto Maple Leaf Fan, and look forward to a bright blue and white future...(I know that sounds crazy doesn't it?) Love all things sports and the next best thing to playing them, is talking them!