January 4, 2011
Leafs defence needs offence
By LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
The Maple Leafs have high-tech gizmos to assist coaches and players improve, but it’s time to fix the radar for their mis-firing defencemen.
Toronto’s blueline brigade have produced just eight goals in almost 40 games, second fewest in the NHL up to Monday night’s 2-1 loss to Boston. That result, by the way, was the third consecutive one-goal loss at home and ninth this year, home and away, for a team averaging 2.32 goals a game. Their defence counterparts on 12 clubs have at least double what the Leafs have produced, so just think of the difference one or two more would make in a couple of those close defeats.
Luke Schenn soared to the team lead of two with a goal on Saturday in Ottawa, with Dion Phaneuf and Tomas Kaberle registering only one apiece.
To be fair, no one said in the summer that the Leafs would ice a team of Paul Coffey clones or had an Al MacInnis in waiting. Phaneuf and Francois Beauchemin have heavy shots, but Phaneuf never duplicated the 20 goals he had in his rookie year with Calgary. Beauchemin hasn’t been in double figures since junior, while Kaberle is still in love with the pass as his primary play.
Schenn has made great improvement with his shot, but still has only nine goals in nearly 200 games and Mike Komisarek’s value is as a physical player.
Yet the Leafs can’t be taken as serious contenders for a playoff spot without better results from the back line. No one knows that more than head coach Ron Wilson, who had 30 goals and 110 points in 197 regular season and playoff games in the NHL. The Boston game sheet read 12 shots by the Toronto defence, six by Beauchemin, but that wasn’t good enough for the coach when he looked back at the 20th loss of the year and the trend he’s seeing from his starting six.
“They’re not joining the play the way they should be, they coast up the ice,” Wilson said.
“If they moved their feet and got a little more involved in the play as a fourth guy, they might have better results. They have to find a way to get their shots on the net..”
When on target, Phaneuf’s shot is not relished by any goalie. But just as often, his high hard ones are a bigger concern to rink maintenance crews worried about how the glass will hold up. But the captain was miffed that this part of his and the team’s game would be under the microscope.
“It (a scoring slump) is part of the game,” Phaneuf said. “Sometimes I’ve gone different stretches without scoring a single goal, close to 20 games at some points in my career. So I’m not worried, personally.
As a group, our job is to keep it out of our net and from that, our offence will come.”