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Garret Sparks, it’s Not Your Fault; Leafs Lose Big in Defensive Catastrophy

The Leafs get out played in John Tavares' return to Long Island. Despite the 6 goals against, it wasn't Sparks' fault, theres just no Hockey Gods.

The Maple Leafs were (maybe predictably) slaughtered at Nassau Coliseum after Islanders fans embarrass themselves about John Tavares’s return. Nothing is fair and just, and the hockey Gods don’t exist. Oh, and Sparks wasn’t to blame.

Recap

Islanders 6 Maple Leafs 1. Pretty telling of the performance by the Buds and also that there is no justice in the hockey world. Islanders fans kept true to their idiotic word, chanting: “we don’t need you”, and “asshole” among other creative jibes while throwing jerseys and rubber snakes on the ice.

Just as a reminder, Tavares left in free agency after playing nine seasons for the New York Islanders. What a dick, right?

Anyways, it wasn’t terrible from the start as Zach Hyman got the scoring started. Hainsey’s point shot was deflected by Marner to Hyman who was able to bounce it in over Robin Lehner for the opener. Other than a disallowed second from Hyman, the Leafs offense ended there.

They still forced Lehner to make 34 saves in the game, but the intensity of the fans was matched by a tenacious Islanders team who were motivated to repay the Long Island faithful with a marquee performance. And they did.

Diving in on a shaky Garret Sparks

What would follow Hyman’s opener was six unanswered goals. Many are pointing the finger at backup goalie Garret Sparks but is that fair? Here’s my assessment of each goal and who was to blame for it:

1st goal: Anthony Beauvillier – 3 on 1 break, Sparks hung out to dry by Muzzin who decided to make a hit instead of keeping the puck in or, ya know, playing defense.
2nd goal: Anders Lee – Rielly gambles on center ice hit that he doesn’t land, Johnsson and Hainsey don’t communicate, leaving Lee opened in front for a half-empty net. Sparks not to blame either.
3rd goal: Casey Cizikas – Bad miss on a simple pass to Muzzin, soft on the stick by Ennis, but you need your goalie to make the simple stick down save there. Not entirely his fault, but it’s a savable shot.
4th goal: Valtteri Filppula – It’s a save that Andersen usually makes, but Marincin and Holl make an absolute mess out of this. Holl rushes to cover the Filppula in front, Marincin also does, Ladd is able to rush the net and shoot, both players lose Filppula and he ends up scoring. Sparks rebound control wasn’t great here but had zero help in front.
5th goal: Nick Leddy – Weird tip in front. No one really to blame on this one, this shot misses the net 9/10.
6th goal: Brock Nelson – Sparks easily abandons the top of the net on a post play which allows Nelson to score it. Again, Andersen makes this save but Marincin makes an idiotic pinch, then just chooses not to cover his man and goes back post where Rielly already is.

Upon further review…

From my initial watching, I was glaringly mad at Sparks. It was another start, another shaky performance, and I was ready to point the finger. Looking back on it, however, this game plays out very differently if Jake Muzzin plays better and Martin Marincin is nowhere near the team.

It’s a shame that Babcock didn’t deviate from his plan of playing Andersen the first game in every back-to-back for this one game. That being said, the players on the ice let Tavares down, as well as their backup goalie.

The Sparks criticism is certainly warranted, but only for maybe 3 of the 6 goals against. He wasn’t outstanding as we all really expected, but take your own look back on the goals, Sparks gets hung out to dry – a lot.

Overall…

It’s a shame for Tavares, but this game clearly meant more to the opposition than it did to his Leafs. Toronto isn’t playing playoff games in February, but the Islanders are. This was their Stanley Cup. Congratulations, I guess.

It’s two points a month before the playoffs start, so it’s important, but there isn’t much you can draw from this game other than it being a one-off. The Leafs were outplayed but judging by recent form and results, this game isn’t a barometer of games to come.

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