Maple Leafs beaten by their own practice goalie in humiliating loss

Yahoo Sports Canada

Status update on the 2019-20 Toronto Maple Leafs: Beaten by the dude that cleans the ice at their practice facility.

Forced into action as the emergency backup netminder, 42-year-old zamboni driver and practice netminder David Ayres — dressed in Marlies equipment and a No. 90 sweater — made eight saves in relief for the opposition Carolina Hurricanes, and was rather incredibly credited with a 6-3 victory over the Maple Leafs.

Injuries to James Reimer and Petr Mrazek forced Ayres into the net with almost nine minutes left in the second period. He was beaten twice on shots from John Tavares and Pierre Engvall before the intermission, but did not allow a goal on seven shots in the third period.

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His counterpart and occasional practice cohort, Frederik Andersen faced 47 shots in the contest, and has now suffered four losses in his last five starts.

Alexander Kerfoot had the other goal for the Leafs, who will be idle through the trade deadline before visiting the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night.

Until then, three points:

No coming back?

Circumstances, they sure are funny.

It was the context that made Thursday’s bounce-back win over the Pittsburgh Penguins so impressive. Tonight, it’s what made the loss so damn deflating.

There may be an avenue back after losing to a recreation-level netminder that takes shots when a warm body is needed at practice, but Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe, like most fans of the Maple Leafs, aren’t immediately seeing it.

“It's going to be a tough one here for us to regroup from,” the coach said.

“It's going to take a little time.”

Unfortunately, the truth is that injuries in goal presented the equivalent of Carolina involuntarily having to throw a life preserver overboard. The Hurricanes were working the Maple Leafs up until the moment that the circumstances changed, and should have altered the outcome of the game.

Soundly beaten before their spirit was, if only just for one night, broken. It appears as though the Leafs will have look themselves in the mirror once again.

Misdiagnosis

Detailed above is the what, so let’s handle the why.

It seemed completely apparent once the Maple Leafs popped in two goals before the second period was up that they already went so far as to update the Atlantic Division standings in their heads. In no way was the netminder that they charitably hit in the pads in practice going to prevent them from making up the one-goal deficit they had faced coming out of the intermission — certainly not after the way the Tavares goal softly went in.

But then a funny thing happened: the Hurricanes diagnosed the situation brilliantly, and handled it infinitely better than their opponent.

From the beginning, they formed walls in front of Ayres in the third, and with that commitment to defense they created the two chances that would allow them to double and triple their lead in under four minutes to start the final frame.

Suddenly staring down imminent failure and complete humiliation, the Leafs abandoned the collective effort entirely, resorting almost exclusively to trying to force the puck into danger spots through individual process alone. The Hurricanes feasted on that incredibly limiting manner in which an NHL team would choose to play hockey, frustrating the Leafs to the point of submission.

It seemed abundantly clear that one team figured out how to adjust to the situation, while the other completely failed in that regard.

Although the coach wasn’t necessarily buying that, lamenting the entire 60 minutes.

“The game was the same,” Keefe said, when asked about Carolina’s response to the adverse situation in goal. “It just so happened it was a different guy in between the pipes. The game was the same, the just continued to play hard the way they were before.”

On top of the world

I’m not sure I was expecting Ayres to apologize for his performance, but part of me was a little surprised that he was doing the media rounds after the win. You know, seeing that he is, in some ways, a member of the team that was booed off the ice tonight.

As it turns out, there wasn’t anything uncomfortable about it. He was on top of the world, man.

And just so we’re clear. He has every reason to savour the moment. Go on.

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