Lack of scoring punch costs Leafs again

Toronto Maple Leafs winger Nikolai Kulemin (41) scores a goal on Philadelphia Flyers goalie Michael...

Toronto Maple Leafs winger Nikolai Kulemin (41) scores a goal on Philadelphia Flyers goalie Michael Leighton during the second period in Philadelphia on Sunday, March 7. (REUTERS/Tim Shaffer)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:14 PM ET

PHILADELPHIA — They fight for each other, finish checks and generally put in an honest all-for-one, one-for-all effort most nights.

But the biggest challenge facing the young Maple Leafs for the remainder of the NHL season will be mastering the game’s basic requirement.

Scoring continues to be at a premium for coach Ron Wilson’s hard-working team, post-trade deadline purge. They outshot the Philadelphia Flyers Sunday night at the Wachovia Center and often outplayed them, yet with no punch up front, never really had a shot of winning.

The result was a 3-1 loss, the Leafs’ fifth defeat in the past six games, a run in which they were unable to score more than two goals.

Without touch around the other team’s net, how much longer can hard work fend off frustration?

“It gets frustrating, but this is what some of the players have to learn,” Wilson said. “They have to think like goal scorers, be ready around the net and bear down on their chances. We’re going to have learn all of that over the last month.”

It will be easier said than done considering the top scoring forward is Phil Kessel with 42 points. And with a compressed schedule because of the Olympics, practice time will continue to be at a premium.

So against such offensive impotence, a pair of Flyers goals 1:16 apart late in the second period was all the scoring the home team really would need.

Special teams were a big part of latest loss, starting with the ineptitude on the Leafs power play, which went

0-for-4, including one meek effort in which they didn’t even get a shot on net.

Saturday night in Ottawa the Leafs went 0-for-6 with the man advantage.

In contrast, thanks in large part to the goonery of Colton Orr, the Leafs handed the Flyers a six-and-a-half minute continuous stretch with the man advantage in the first period, some of it five on three.

Orr was given a four-minute minor for pummelling the Flyers’ Daniel Carcillo, who played punching bag/turtle and didn’t bite. And as soon as the Leafs killed off that sentence, he steamrolled Philly goaltender Michael Leighton to earn two more.

With defenceman Dion Phaneuf in the box, the Flyers scored once, on an easy finishing play by Jeff Carter and the damage was done.

“I thought the penalties set us back, it’s hard to get momentum when you are trying to kill (penalties),” new Leafs forward Luca Caputi said. “They have one of the best power plays in the league, so if you keep giving them opportunities it’s going to bite you in the rear.”

Nikolai Kulemin scored the Leafs’ lone goal 3:55 into the second but the late-period burst by Simon Gagne and Daniel Briere was too much for the Leafs.

“It’s tough to go in the third on the road two goals behind against a team like that,” said goaltender J-S Giguere, who made a number of big saves to keep his team in it for as long as he could. “When you do, you aren’t going to win very often.”

Externally, there won’t be much expectation for the Leafs to do so, especially against teams like the Flyers, who are battling to get an upper hand in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

But if there is a glimmer of hope for the future, it is that this young and largely auditioning group won’t settle for moral victories, as it proved through a scrappy three-game road trip that saw a shootout loss in Boston, shootout win in Ottawa and Sunday’s effort.

“That’s something we are going to do every night throw everything we can out there,” Phaneuf said. “Our effort has been there, but we’re definitely not satisfied with playing hard and working hard.

“We want to win games and accumulate points as a team.”

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca


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