Leafs Finish 2010 on a Losing Note

After experiencing a loss on Tuesday at the hands of Eric Staal and the Carolina Hurricanes, the Toronto Maple Leafs welcomed another young team in the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are led by another Ontario-born player in Rick Nash.

Nash wasn’t as dominate in Thursday’s performance as Staal on Tuesday, but he still managed to tally two assists, including one on the Jackets’ game winner scored by R.J. Umberger.

Nikolai Kulemin opened the scoring for Toronto with his 13th of the season on a beautifully set-up play by Clarke MacArthur, who picked up his 19th assist and team-leading 28th point of the season. Forward Darryl Boyce, who was just recalled from the Marlies, capitalized on a pinching Blue Jackets defenseman and dished the puck to Kulemin, who play give and go with MacArthur and eventually tapped in the goal. The assist was Boyce’s first career NHL point.

“It was a great opportunity for me. I got lots of ice time tonight,” remarked Boyce after the game. “All around, I thought it was a good effort for the guys. [We] limited a couple chances on the PK and [had] a bad bounce in the corner, so just bad luck.”

Kristian Huselius evened the game at 16:46 of the second period with his seventh goal of the season by firing a wrist shot through the five hole of Jonas Gustavsson.Defenseman Jan Hedja and Antoine Vermette were credited with the assists on the play.

With 18 seconds remaining in the opening frame, Tyler Bozak snuck his fifth of the season over Steve Mason’s shoulder on the power play to give the Leafs a promising 2-1 lead going into the second period. Phil Kessel had the only assist, which was his fourth point in his last four games.

An unlikely break behind the net for Francois Beauchemin led to a quality scoring chance for Huselius, who capitalized on the play and scored his second of the contest. The puck deflected off of Beauchemin’s skate and slide to Huselius in front of the net, who backhanded a shot past Gustavsson. Rick Nash earned his first of two assists on the play, while Vermette was credited with the second assist to give him two points on the night.

The Blue Jackets outshot the Leafs 21-15 through two periods. Toronto had only three shots in the second. However, they managed to kill off two minor penalties to Joey Crabb and Dion Phaneuf. The Leafs scored on their only power play opportunity.

In the third, Umberger tipped in a shot by Nash from the hash marks for his 11th of the season and eventual game winner. The play was reminiscent of Patrick Dwyer’s game winning goal Tuesday versus the Carolina Hurricanes.

Gustavsson played a relatively solid game, stopping 29 of 32 shots. He would have liked to have the first goal back, while the second one was the result of a fluky bounce behind the net. At the other end, Mason turned out 20 of 22 shots in a winning effort.

The Leafs displayed another good effort, but could not overcome the Jackets balanced offense. Tonight’s game summed up the entire season to date, which has been filled with more downs than ups.

A dismal 3-7-0 record in their past 10 games has many observers questioning whether another losing streak could spell the end to Ron Wilson’s tenure in Toronto. Regardless of a possible coaching chance, some type of transaction is on the horizon, according to GM Brian Burke, who has stated that he needs to give Wilson more skill to work with.

Toronto faces off against the provincial rival Ottawa Senators in a Saturday night showdown on the first day of 2011. The Senators are currently six points out of the playoffs with a 16-18-4 record, so it will represent the best opportunity for the Leafs to gain some ground in the Eastern Conference.


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