Phaneuf's return not enough for Leafs

Maple Leafs defenceman Dion Phaneuf is checked by Flyers forward Jeff Carter at the Air Canada...

Maple Leafs defenceman Dion Phaneuf is checked by Flyers forward Jeff Carter at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on December 9, 2010. (MIKE CASSESE/Reuters)

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:24 AM ET

TORONTO - Dion Phaneuf wears the ‘C’ for the Maple Leafs with pride and he’s great at hitting opposing players.

But as much as he can try to inspire his teammates, the captain can’t make them score goals.

Phaneuf returned to the lineup after missing 16 games with a cut on his left leg, but the squeeze-water-from-a-stone Leafs offence produced just one goal in a 4-1 loss at the Air Canada Centre against the Philadelphia Flyers.

“We’re not happy,” Phaneuf said. “We don’t play this game to lose, we play it to win. Anyone who is not down or not unhappy, I don’t think you would find anyone in our room who is happy about losing a hockey game.”

Perhaps no one was as ticked as Phil Kessel, who draws a salary of $6 million US this season. Kessel had seven shots on net, but none resulted in a goal. Kessel has gone seven games without scoring, equalling his longest slump of the 2010-11 season.

The Leafs goal was provided by Mikhail Grabovski, who has scored in three consecutive games. Rookie Nazem Kadri, Toronto’s first-round draft pick in 2009, has played in 13 games this season and has yet to score.

“I’m disappointed in myself, obviously,” Kessel said. “I have to find a way. I need a bounce, I have to work harder, I guess. I’m in a big struggle. I have to figure it out.”

A night after they were ripped by coach Ron Wilson following a loss to Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Leafs’ effort was a bit better. Phaneuf got into it right away, bowling over Nikolay Zherdev on the first shift. Colby Armstrong was robbed by Brian Boucher on a point-blank opportunity. Overall, the Leafs outshot the Flyers 32-28.

But this Leafs team can’t win faceoffs — it lost 43 of 63 — and the power play smelled. During a double minor to Flyers defenceman Braydon Coburn in the first period, the Leafs had one shot on Boucher.

Wilson hasn’t been able to convince his players that screwing around with the puck when they have a man advantage doesn’t work.

The Leafs could have used Wayne Gretzky, who was among the announced crowd of 19,365 and watched the game with his father, Walter.

So, what’s wrong with the power play, Dion?

“We didn’t score,” Phaneuf said, taking bland to the extreme.

Toronto is not in the same class as Philadelphia, which has 41 points. The Leafs are scuttling along with 24 points, nine out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Defenceman Mike Komisarek, who was in a fight the night before in Pittsburgh, was scratched because of an upper-body injury, as was forward Jay Rosehill.

Danny Briere scored two goals for Philadelphia, while Ville Leino and Chris Pronger also connected.

The buzz-killer came early and, truth be told, the crowd was flat, anyway. With Armstrong in the penalty box, Leino skated in from the point and beat Giguere between the legs at 11:13 of the first.

“It was not a good goal,” Giguere said. “I got a good piece of it, but it was the type of shot you need to be able to handle.”

Pronger and Briere gave Philly a 3-0 lead midway through the second. Grabovski got one back, but the Flyers responded when Briere scored on a 2-on-1 with defenceman Andrej Meszaros. The odd-man rush was created when Phaneuf stepped up to check Flyers enforcer Jody Shelley.

“Things are going to happen,” Giguere said. “We need to find our way through adversity.”

terry.koshan@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/koshtorontosun


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