TORONTO - First, the good part.
The last time two Maple Leafs scored as much as Phil Kessel and Clarke MacArthur through the first seven games was 1993-94.
Their names were Dave Andreychuk and Wendel Clark and they ended with 99 goals between them (53 by Andreychuk) on a team that did very well in the playoffs, making it to the Western Conference final against Vancouver.
The bad news? This isn’t 1993 and this Leafs team isn’t as strong down the middle or as dominant on the blue line. The fallout from Kessel and MacArthur getting six goals apiece so far and no one but Tim Brent having more than one is three straight Toronto losses.
One more defeat here tomorrow against the Florida Panthers and the team’s hot start will be erased.
So let’s go through the missing persons list on offence: Kris Versteeg, Nikolai Kulemin, Colby Armstrong, one goal; Tyler Bozak, Mikhail Grabovski, Fredrik Sjostrom none. Brent has been silent since getting two in the first two games, though to be fair, he and fellow third liners Armstrong and Sjostrom aren’t paid to score with regularity.
General manager Brian Burke and coach Ron Wilson might tell you they would have been ecstatic if you told them last month the Leafs would be 4-4 after eight games. But Toronto could have done better by sticking to the formula, certainly in the past two games. Their worst defeat of the three consecutive losses was Saturday in Philadelphia, where the Flyers blocked more shots (18) than the Leafs got on net (14), captain Dion Phaneuf was a minus three and the Leafs breakout went from order to chaos.
Everyone wanted to be in the book, but no one was on the same page and the Flyers bagged two or three goals right off turnovers.
MacArthur said that was a likely consequence of having too many forwards with ones and zeroes beside their name as November approaches.
“I think once the games start building up, the guys start squeezing the stick,” MacArthur said. “We have a lot of good shooters here, and I don’t think they need to. But on the other hand, they are looking to get one.
“I mean, everyone needs to keep shooting. That’s the only thing that you can do, is just keep putting pucks to the net. Mikhail Grabovski was buzzing all over the place. He deserves one and it’s coming soon for him.”
Down 2-0 after one period in Philly, Wilson tried to fire up the 66% of his top six forwards that weren’t scoring by flipping Kessel and MacArthur. Almost immediately, Kessel scored with help from second liners Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin. Late in the first, MacArthur scored, though it had more to do with defenceman Mike Komisarek’s save at the blue line than any help from first liners Versteeg and Bozak.
MacArthur agrees that new Leafs better be on their toes after Wilson showed he’s not one to keep the status quo if lines are struggling. This is no longer last year’s teaching situation and a playoff berth is currently at stake.
“When things aren’t going, you’ve got to switch things up in the game,” MacArthur said. “We just didn’t have it going early on (Saturday).
“Whatever the lines are, that doesn’t matter. We’ve just got to play our system and play hard.”
This is not to say the Leafs defence is off the hook. While freelancing forwards aren’t providing proper co-ordinates when the Leafs try to move up ice, there have been some problematic episodes with the puck as well. Phaneuf took his lumps and played seven minutes fewer than regular partner Francois Beauchemin. There’s also the matter of those 71 blocked shots the past three games and a 4-for-32 power play.
Thus, Monday’s practice at the MasterCard Centre is bound to be one of Wilson’s most demanding, given that he probably wanted to cancel Sunday’s day off after the debacle the night before.
But there are still points to be harvested from winnable games and the schedule is still in the Leafs favour in terms of rest and opponents, up until the first back-to-back situation Nov. 2-3 against Ottawa and Washington.