Maple Leafs unable to see the bigger picture after loss to Lightning

TORONTO – In his latest Netflix special, standup comedian Dave Chappelle talks about our tendency to rush analysis of a situation we’re too close to see.

“Initial reactions, as we all learn as we get older, are often wrong or incomplete,” Chapelle says. “They call this phenomenon ‘standing too close to an elephant,’ the analogy being that if you stand too close to an elephant, you can’t see the elephant. All you see is its [wrinkly] skin. You gotta step back and give it a better look.”

The way Toronto Maple Leafs stars Nazem Kadri, Frederik Andersen and Mitch Marner spoke immediately after Tuesday’s 2-0 shutout loss to 2018’s best hockey team, it was as if the elephant was in their dressing room, inches from their faces.

“I don’t think we got outplayed at all,” Kadri said.

“We were close to tying it up and having it a shot,” Andersen said.

“Just bad luck,” Marner said. “The puck didn’t go in for us tonight.”

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The elephant in this metaphor is a jumbo called the Tampa Bay Lightning, the first NHL club to 60 points, the new standard of consistency, and a force from the net out, leading the league with a plus-53 goal differential, a mark 38 goals better than Toronto’s. At the risk of mixing metaphors, Tampa has a bigger button.

And, by the way, the Bolts have two games in hand and years of battle-tested playoff experience that can’t be cured by a sports-science lab.

Prior to the game, Tampa captain Steven Stamkos was asked why the Lightning are so good on the road. That reporter, too, was focusing too closely on one feature of the beast.

“We’re a good team. We believe in each other. We have a confidence in our ability whether we’re at home or on the road,” corrected Stamkos. Lots of players say similar things, but their tone suggests they’re trying to convince themselves or their questioner. Stamkos just sounded matter-of-fact. “When we had our early successes as a team, we were always lacking that experience. We have that now.

“The puck possession is key to our success.”

In five-on-five action, Tampa outshot Toronto 31-19. Only three Leafs – Kadri, Morgan Rielly and Leo Komarov – posted a positive Corsi for percentage. Only two Tampa players didn’t, and they both were instrumental in the two Lightning strikes.

One of them, Cedric Paquette, opened the scoring 32 minutes into the affair when Chris Kunitz won a puck battle with Andersen behind the Toronto net, a place Andersen should probably not be engaging in puck battles.

“It’s one of those where it’s safer to stay in the net,” Andersen said, “but it happens.”

The goal was Paquette’s first since January of 2017, and he launched the monkey off his back with glee.