Leafs need to get more shots on net

Phil Kessel during a Toronto Maple Leafs practice in The MasterCard Centre for Hockey Excellence....

Phil Kessel during a Toronto Maple Leafs practice in The MasterCard Centre for Hockey Excellence. (Ernest Doroszuk/QMI AGENCY)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:31 AM ET

Shock and awe it ain’t.

Though the Maple Leafs have some of the hardest-shooting defencemen in the NHL in Dion Phaneuf, Francois Beauchemin and Luke Schenn, Toronto is getting very few pucks through of late, at least to the right areas. That has contributed to a lack of team scoring the past five games, with just seven goals and one win to show.

“So what if you have a bomb from the point?” coach Ron Wilson harrumphed on Friday at the MasterCard Centre. “It doesn’t matter, if the other teams is blocking shots. You have to find ways to get it through. How hard you shoot is absolutely irrelevent. You have to find a way to get it past the first and second wave of shot blockers and we haven’t done a very good job of that lately.”

Whether that’s faking a shot and stepping around the covering forward, waiting a little longer to work for a clearer shot, or trying more passes down low or across th box, the Leafs will want to get it right on Saturday. Coming to town are the New York Rangers, who went into Friday’s game against Carolina tied with the Hurricanes for the most blocked shots in the NHL at 16.6 a night. In last week’s 2-1 Rangers’ win here, 30 Toronto shots failed to reach goalie Martin Biron.

Phaneuf’s velocity is respected, but often the captain has his own teammates ducking when his shot gets up, up and away.

“You gotta hit the net,” Phaneuf declared, plain and simple. “It starts with us (on defence). When the forwards work hard to get the puck out to us, it’s up to us to get them through.

“Teams do a good job blocking shots now. It’s no secret the game has changed in that aspect with guys getting in the way more and more. It’s not just the guys up top (to beat), you have to get it by their defencemen, too. Whatever way, we have to get it through.

“If they’re not on net, you won’t generate much. If you don’t have a shooting lane, it’s better to get it down into the corners around the net so somethimg can happen. Our job is to get it past the top guy so the forwards can take it from there.”

Scoring directly from the point is easier said than done, but the seven Leafs defencemen who’ve played to date have two goals, by Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek. It’s not just Phaneuf’s shots that often end up snared in the big white nylon mesh above the glass instead of inside the 4x6 hemp.

Presumably, the game-weary Rangers will give the Leafs a bit more room to operate than the Boston Bruins, who choked the Leafs in a 2-0 win on Thursday and held them to 20 shots. Not even Phil Kessel and Clarke MacArthur, who have accounted for more than half of Toronto’s total offence with 13 goals, could get much in the way of quality chances in the game.

“Goal droughts ... you go a couple of games and don’t think you can score (again),” MacArthur said. “Then you stop shooting and get into trouble. Good scorers shoot every single game. They may go three, four or five games, but then it’s going to come back.”

If the defence does get the puck in the right place, then good hands are needed to put it away. Wilson tried to juggle lines around the loss of Kris Versteeg and Colby Armstrong on Thursday, but early chances were wasted and the Bruins built a wall in front of Tim Thomas afterwards.

“You have to get to the front,” Wilson said. “It’s not strategy, it’s about guys burying pucks.

“You can’t be stickhandling through the minefield. We’re as fast as any team in the league, but if you don’t move the puck and chase it down, you’re not going to look very fast. When you’re not scoring, make sure you are playing good defence. We’re not blessed with guys who have ever scored before. To expect your third line to wake up one day and score 20 goals or be productive offensively ... we just want them to work hard and not be scored against, to push the pace and set the table for our first and second lines.

“All teams go through periods where the puck doesn’t go in. Eventually you always come out of it.”

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca

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