Leafs in search of a spark

Toronto Maple Leaf Phil Kessel meets The Hospital for Sick Children patient Cody Smith, 8, of...

Toronto Maple Leaf Phil Kessel meets The Hospital for Sick Children patient Cody Smith, 8, of Burk’s Falls. The Leafs paid their annual visit to the hospital on Monday. (Craig Robertson, QMI Agency)

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 8:56 AM ET

Maple Leafs scrub Rickard Wallin may have had visions of goals dancing in his head during practice Monday at the Mastercard Centre in beautiful downtown New Toronto.

The fourth-line centre, who has yet to score in 34 games this season, had been placed on a line with the normally dangerous sniper Phil Kessel and the improving winger Nikolai Kulemin.

It appeared as though head coach Ron Wilson was attempting to have Wallin and Kessel, who is also in a scoring slump, break out of their funks Tuesday night against the low pressure system known as the Carolina Hurricanes by playing together.

Wallin even answered questions after the practice about the prospect of playing with Kessel, and expressed his excitement.

Alas, it was not to be, as Wilson announced after practice that the matchup was basically for naught. The Leafs later recalled centre Tyler Bozak from the Marlies to play with Kessel, and Wallin will likely resume his spot on the third or fourth line.

“(Bozak’s) not a fourth line guy, so we’ll give him quality ice time and play with good players,” said Wilson, of the move.

As for Kessel, the first-year Leaf, who scored 36 goals in Boston last year but who has only one goal in his last 12 games, he certainly is getting his chances, but has been unable to get on any kind of roll.

Wilson called his Olympic team forward out last week and Kessel is hoping to score a couple before more trips under the proverbial bus are forthcoming.

“They’ll come,” Kessel said Monday. “If you look at last year I went through the same thing, 10-12 games (without a goal). It happens.

“There’s only a couple of guys in the league that score consistently every game or so. So it will come.”

A lot has been made about Kessel benefitting last year from having the crafty Marc Savard as his centre, but Kessel has never used that as excuse for his slump.

“Anywhere you go, you have to find chemistry with some guys. It took me and Savy a while to find chemistry in Boston,” he said. “You’ll eventually find that guy you click with, and I think me and Stajan play pretty well together. But right now, they’re just not going in. One of these days they’ll start going back in.”

As for Bozak, the former University of Denver star is not exactly the second coming of Ron Francis, but his numbers with the Marlies have been decent, four goals and 16 assists in 32 games.

Bozak missed eight games early with the Marlies because of a reported bout with the swine flu and has also been dealing recently with an ankle sprain. Still, it seems kind of odd that Bozak will be brought in and placed on the first line while Viktor Stalberg, who posted one more point than Bozak in 13 fewer games with the Marlies, plays on the fourth line in Toronto. But for Wilson, it doesn’t matter who plays with whom. Someone has to score. The Leafs have managed just five goals in their last three games.

“A lot of goal scorers are streaky,” said Wilson. “I had Jonathan Cheechoo, who nobody looks at as a goal scorer anymore.

“But when he was in San Jose, he’d go on these 10-game streaks where he’d score 18-19 goals and then wouldn’t score for another month. All you can hope is the other guys score some goals during the dry spells.”

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca


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