Dion Phaneuf could be in for his first test in crisis management as Maple Leafs captain.
His team has hit a wall the past five games, offence is drying up and he’s mired in a personal slump with no goals, four assists and a team-worst minus-six after his passing gaffe helped the Rangers to a 2-0 win on Saturday. Mats Sundin rarely had the double whammy of team troubles and reduced personal stats to contend with, but just 10 games into the season, Phaneuf isn’t heading for the lifeboat.
“We got off to a great start, had spurts where we’ve played well and spurts where we could’ve played better,” he said of a roller-coaster October. “Overall, we have to stay upbeat. No one is going to come in and get us out of this (the trade front is quite for now).
“It’s the guys in this room that will get us out of this and we’re confident we will.”
Expectations in the room didn’t get too carried away when Toronto jumped to a 4-0 start, but some pessimism could seep in soon without a win or two to keep the ship around .500 and keep fans and media off their case. After being the only NHL team not to face back-to-back games this season, the Leafs get the rival Ottawa Senators on Tuesday and Alex Ovechkin the next night in Washington. Then it’s star goalie Ryan Miller and the Buffalo Sabres next weekend, followed by the two improving Florida-based teams.
A tall order if the Leafs want to harvest at least six points for every five-game segment as they hope.
“We have to stay upbeat and keep shooting the puck,” said Phaneuf, who still leads all NHL defencemen in goals with 77 since joining the league in 2005. “We didn’t give up too many chances (against the Rangers). They just capitalized.
“We’re getting our chances and that’s the bottom line.”
The Leafs are getting blanked too often in the first period and, when the opposition scores first as New York did, Toronto is 1-4-1. Mentioning that stat ruffled Phaneuf.
“They scored, but we didn’t stop working,” he argued. “We played hard the whole 60 minutes. This wasn’t from lack of effort.”
Other Leafs repeated the Phaneuf mantra.
“We’ve talked about that since training camp, getting off to a good start in every game , because first goals are huge,” centre Tim Brent said. “We could have had the first goal tonight (as in Boston). That’s what we’re going to take out of this.”