|Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jean-Sébastien Giguère takes a penalty shot from New York Rangers Ryan Callahan. (Veronica Henri/QMI Agency)
Like Charlie Brown pining for the Great Pumpkin, the Maple Leafs and their fans keep waiting for faith in offence to be rewarded.
But good grief, November is almost here with nothing to see on the past few game sheets except lots of zeroes under goals and double figures in Leaf shots blocked.
The return of Kris Versteeg, the call-up of Christian Hanson and some line juggling to get Luca Caputi some quality time on a skilled line led to 36 shots, but still couldn't quite warm the cold hands of Leaf snipers on Saturday at the Air Canada Centre. The New York Rangers handed the Leafs a second consecutive shutout defeat, matching the 2-0 stranglehold the Bruins had on Toronto on Thursday, the first back-to-back blanks of the Leafs in almost seven years.
Toronto reached the 10-game mark of the season with a 5-4-1 mark, losing four of five after winning as many. Better than last season when they blew up on the launch pad, but coach Ron Wilson would feel a lot better if the puck was going in.
"I sound like a recording, but you have to score an ugly goal once in awhile," Wilson said. "If they're not going to give us 3-on-2s and 2-on-1s, we have to dig in and win those battles that we aren't quite winning. We got pushed out of the way battling for rebounds. That's what we have to get better at.
"We have to think like goal scorers, with a little poise and quick releases. But we have guys being asked about secondary scoring who don't even have on their resume that they've scored anywhere."
A rare Sunday practice is the place to start the repair work, both in mind and body.
"We have what it takes in here," insisted winger Clarke MacArthur. "We'll grind through this little lull we're having. We'll come out on the other end."
Henrik Lunqvist of the Rangers, who made 36 saves, was the latest stopper to trim the fat off his goals-against average at the expense of the Leafs, but his mates were completing three games in four nights against the rested Leafs and this was a wasted chance for T.O. to make hay in front of a lively Halloween home audience. At least the costumed crowd was excited until Toronto went 0-for-3 on the power play in the first period and came out trailing.
The energy was sapped further by Ryan Callahan's penalty shot goal on Jean Sebastien Giguere. It came after Phil Kessel had to trip him after the Ranger picked off a soft Dion Phaneuf pass. The captain took full blame.
"It's no secret that Phil is a fast forward. I was looking for that play and didn't make the pass."
By the third period, Toronto's inability to make its 92 attempted shots (on goal, blocked or wide off the net) had ignited several boos - and not just from the ghosts of Leafs' past.
Toronto has mined just three points from the past four home games as their comfy schedule comes to an end and the first back-to-backs of this NHL season arrive this week.
"This is an okay start, but we have a lot of work ahead of us," Wilson said. "I'm not discouraged at all."
From Game 10 up to American Thanksgiving is often evaluation time for clubs who aren't getting the anticipated results and while Toronto is far ahead of its flat start of '09, the available cap space and no emergence of a consistent first or second line centre must be weighing on general manager Brian Burke. Now, even Kessel and MacArthur, with 13 of the club's 23 goals, have fallen on hard times.
"We had point-blank chances. It was a frustrating game," MacArthur said. "We out-shoot them, we out-played them and their goaltender plays good. You get 35 or 40 shots a night, you should win games. It was one of those games, just one of those games."
With their ninth shot of the first period the Leafs exceeded their total of the previous five games, but have still registered just one goal in the opening frame of the past seven starts.
The Rangers, who lost games earlier this week to Atlanta and Carolina giving up 10 goals, came back with Lundqvist rather than Martin Biron, who won 2-1 here a few games ago. Lundqvist's best save was on Clarke MacArthur in the first period on the doorstep, but the Leafs should have made more of the power plays granted them, including a 5-on-3 that bookended the first intermission.
New York went ahead in the first when Brandon Prust stepped out of the box to get a puck right on his stick and get it past Tomas Kaberle for a Brian Boyle rush that ended with a short-side backhand goal. That was bad news for a Toronto team that has lost all but one game when giving up the first strike (1-4-1).
"Lundqvist is good on his angles and if he sees pucks he's going to stop them," MacArthur said. "He's fortunate to have a team that dices in front of everything and clog it up."
Leaving nothing but disappointment for the Leafs.