TORONTO — The steam was still oozing off Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock in the moments after the team’s 20th loss in the past 25 games.
Babcock was furious with the officiating in a 2-1 Thursday defeat to the Minnesota Wild at the Air Canada Centre. The Wild scored both goals on the power play, including the winner from Mikael Granlund with Leo Komarov in the penalty box.
“I thought we got ripped off big time today,” Babcock said. “I don’t get it. It makes no sense to me. The other thing I know is the people didn’t pay to watch (the officials) play, they pay to watch the players.”
Toronto was whistled for four penalties by referees Francis Charron and Wes McCauley while Minnesota was called for none.
Babcock was specifically perturbed with the penalty called on Komarov, which led to Granlund’s winner. Komarov got tangled up with Wild leading goal-scorer Charlie Coyle in the Minnesota zone and was called for interference.
“I think it’s a bad call,” said Komarov, echoing the frustration of his coach. “There’s nothing to say about it. It’s a bad call, that’s how I see it.”
Asked specifically about the penalty, Babcock scowled and waved the question off. “What’s next?” he said. “It’s a joke.”
Making his frustration with the penalty clear on the bench, Babcock drew an unsportmanlike conduct penalty following Granlund’s goal.
The Leafs went 2 for 4 on the penalty kill.
It was the third straight one-goal loss for the Maple Leafs (21-32-10), which continues to play well despite dressing an increasingly youthful lineup. Nine players in the Toronto lineup were 23 years or younger, including a pair of teenagers in William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen, recalled following Monday’s trade deadline.
For Babcock, it’s more uncharted territory and perhaps explains some of his frustration. Toronto’s coach has not only never coached a team this young in the NHL — he did coach for six years in junior with the Spokane Chiefs — but he’s also never lost with such frequency.
Only once, in an NHL career that dates back to 2002, has Babcock lost 30 or more games in regulation. The Leafs have lost 32 games in regulation already this season.
After trading six players ahead of the trade deadline, Toronto is trying to give its young players a first taste of the NHL.
The lessons are ongoing.
Babcock was disappointed, in particular, with the competitive elements of Nylander and Kapanen on Wednesday night in Washington. He got a hardier response from the duo against Minnesota, the pair connecting for a couple quality chances against Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk, who stopped 20 of the 21 shots he faced.
“Don’t get me wrong they weren’t terrible (Wednesday) night, they’re kids, that’s the business,” Babcock said. “You’ve got to learn how hard it is. The guys you’re playing against are real players and they compete hard.”
Nylander had perhaps the best chance in a scoreless first period. The former eighth overall pick took a nifty pass from Kapanen and rocketed it at Dubnyk, who slid over to make the save.
Jake Gardiner actually opened the scoring for the Leafs with a hard slapshot that eluded the grasp of the Minnesota goaltender, screened on the shot by Brooks Laich, playing in his third game with the Leafs following a Sunday trade from Washington.
The Wild (30-25-10) tied the score at one on a power-play a few minutes after that — Frank Corrado was called for hooking — Mikko Koivu‘s pass attempt appearing to ping off the skate of Leafs defenceman Matt Hunwick in front.
It was Koivu’s 14th goal this season.
The two teams remained even until midway through the third period when, with Komarov in the box, Granlund whistled a shot over the left shoulder of Leafs goaltender Garret Sparks. Granlund was set up nicely on the play by Thomas Vanek.
“We’re actually in pretty position on that one,” Hunwick said. “Vanek made a really good sauce pass over two or three sticks and a perfect shot.”
Thursday marked only the seventh instance in Wild history that the team didn’t take a penalty.
“I thought our kill was great,” Minnesota interim coach John Torchetti dead-panned after the game, which kept Minnesota in sole control of the final wild card spot in the Western Conference.
The Wild are now 7-3-0 under Torchetti, who replaced Mike Yeo behind the Wild bench in February.
Sporting a 5-17-3 record since Jan. 7, the Leafs, meanwhile, remain last in the NHL with 52 points.
They’ll host former captain Dion Phaneuf on Saturday in the first game back in Toronto for Phaneuf since an early February trade to Ottawa.