Leafs take predictable beating in San Jose

The Toronto Maple Leafs were never going to win last night’s game in San Jose against the Sharks and that’s not a knock against them. California is a wasteland for visiting teams – the Sharks, Ducks and Los Angeles Kings are three of the best clubs in the NHL and they’re all very good on home ice.

The Sharks were reminiscent of their namesake against the Leafs. The game was a feeding frenzy; easy pickings for the home team that didn’t play the night before like their counterparts who had picked up two-points in Anaheim on Monday night.

There are reasons why most NHL clubs struggle in California against the Ducks, Sharks and Kings. One of those reasons is that all three clubs are among the best in the league. Another reason is that going to California is more travel than most NHL teams are used to – especially teams from the Eastern Conference, like the Leafs. These reasons and more contributed to the Leafs loss, but on top of that, the Sharks are a bad matchup for the Buds because they excel at puck possession and the Leafs clearly don’t.

San Jose’s exceptional ability to possess the puck was on clinical display last evening. According to James Mirtle of The Globe And Mail, the Sharks decidedly dominated the Leafs in advanced statistics:

More from Mirtle: a traditional stat to support the Sharks’ dominance over the Leafs last night:

The NHL season is lengthy and strenuous. The Leafs have had their ups and downs this year – like most teams – but they’ve been strong lately, posting a 13-3-3 record in their last twenty games before they got eaten by the Sharks.

The Sharks have only lost four regulation games at home this season – that’s how tough it is to defeat them in their own barn – and those losses were against the Vancouver Canucks (pre-meltdown), Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings and Philadelphia Flyers.

As badly as the Leafs were taken to school by the San Jose Sharks last night, they have performed strongly in 2014, despite their recent history of falling apart under pressure. Their one win in California – the victory over Anaheim on Monday – is enough to keep them on pace with the rest of the Eastern teams who win one or less in the Sunshine State.

The Leafs close out their California trip tomorrow night against the Los Angeles Kings – another incredible home team. The Kings record at Staples Center this season is 19-10-3. When the two sides met in December at the Air Canada Centre, the Kings won 3-1 but the Leafs’ speed gave them fits. Toronto even outshot the Kings 39 to 23 when they last met, and the Leafs rarely outshoot anyone.

The Leafs occupy second spot in the Atlantic Division, one-point up on the Montreal Canadiens. If the playoffs began today, the Leafs and Habs would be first-round opponents. Whatever happens with Toronto throughout the rest of the season, most of us who enjoy hockey are really hoping for the Canadiens and Leafs in Round One of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.