TORONTO - Randy Carlyle didn't think his Toronto Maple Leafs could take much from their October victory over the Predators in Nashville.
It was so long ago it might as well have been ancient history. That was evident Thursday night when so much that went right for the Leafs last time around failed them in a 4-2 loss to the Predators at Air Canada Centre.
After jumping out to a lead, the Leafs abandoned much of what made them 8-2-0 at home going in. Defence in their own zone was spotty, and that, coupled with penalties, proved to be their undoing.
Craig Smith scored twice for the Predators, while rookie defenceman Seth Jones and Matt Cullen each had a goal. That overshadowed Peter Holland's first goal with the Leafs since being acquired from the Anaheim Ducks.
Toronto goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who shut out the Predators last month and has dominated them during his NHL career, made 24 saves on 28 shots but didn't allow a soft goal until the third period when the game had all but slipped away. Nashville rookie Marek Mazanec made 24 saves for the victory.
Carlyle said Thursday morning that so much hockey had been played since the Leafs and Predators met Oct. 10. In the present, his focus was to "cure some of the ailments that have been present."
That didn't go so well. Again the Leafs were out-shot - 28-26 after starting the game up 11 to five - and they couldn't put together much sustained attack time or opportunistic offence after Holland scored 5:48 in with a perfect shot over Mazanec's left shoulder.
With the Predators playing their ninth road game in their past 10, the Leafs (13-8-1) might've been able to wear out a tired opponent. Instead, Nashville did exactly what it has had success with for a decade.
"They've got a team that has had a workmanlike attitude for an extended period of time," Carlyle said. "They establish that there's a way to play and it's the Nashville Predator way, and they don't waver from that."
Carlyle knew the Leafs had to out-work the Predators to combat that, but it didn't happen. Along the way, small mistakes proved costly.
Early in the second winger Mason Raymond clipped long-time Predators centre David Legwand with a high-stick, and Jones scored his third goal of the season on the ensuing power play. Jones' shot from the blue line deflected off Leafs forward Jay McClement's stick and past Bernier 2:01 into the period.
Sleepy defence led to Cullen's goal at 11:14 of the second. Cullen whiffed on his original attempt but had no trouble recovering the puck and scoring while Paul Ranger and the Leafs stood around watching.
A boarding penalty to James van Riemsdyk a few minutes later dug the Leafs further into a hole, as Smith took advantage of sloppy play around the net for a power-play goal at 16:25 to make it 3-1 Predators.
Smith's second goal at 4:32 of the third surprised Bernier, who was previously stellar against Nashville: 8-1-0 with a 1.67-goals-against average and a .941 save percentage.
Well after the game was decided, Nazem Kadri scored in his return from a three-game suspension for elbowing Minnesota Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom in the head. Carlyle jumbled up the lines, putting Kadri with Colton Orr and Raymond, and it led to a goal at 15:28 of the third period.
That provided a brief burst of energy and brought the crowd of 19,256 to life, but the Leafs could not capitalize.
NOTES - Leafs centre Tyler Bozak missed his 11th straight game with a hamstring injury. He could return as soon as Saturday night against the Washington Capitals. ... Ten of the Predators' 11 points came from U.S.-born players. General manager David Poile is the general manager of the U.S. Olympic team.
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