February 20, 2012
Leafs unfazed by Connolly's lack of production
By Steve Buffery, QMI Agency
In the spirit of Family Day, Ron Wilson took on the role of a tolerant Ward Cleaver on Monday. And not even the mention of Tim Connolly could get the Maple Leafs head coach riled up.
In fact, it was just the opposite.
When asked if he was down on the underperforming Connolly, Wilson launched into a fairly passionate defence of his third-line centre, which is a bit surprising because if you take an objective look at Connolly’s numbers, you might think Wilson would be down on him.
Connolly has got talent to burn, but his stats are lagging from previous seasons and he seems to disappear for long stretches during games.
After scoring the overtime winner last Wednesday against the Edmonton Oilers (following a bad defensive play), Connolly went into Vancouver on Saturday and laid an egg, finishing the game a minus-1, with no shots on net.
Neither of his linemates, Matthew Lombardi and Colby Armstrong, managed a shot on Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo either.
But that’s the way it’s been with the 30-year-old Connolly this season. A good game, followed by far too many mediocre outings.
He’s seventh in Leafs’ scoring — with 26 points in 47 games — and generally centring the third line, despite the fact that he was the Leafs’ prized free-agent signing in the summer.
By most accounts, it seems to have been a lost season for Connolly.
Yet despite the struggles and inconsistency, Wilson has only positive things to say about the veteran NHL centre.
Last week, the coach was asked about Connolly’s offensive struggles, and he suggested that Connolly’s linemates (Lombardi and Joey Crabb) needed to step up to help him out of his slump. And then following practice on Family Day, Wilson was again magnanimous when asked about Connolly.
“Not at all,” he said, when asked if he was down on No.12. “If I was down on him, I wouldn’t put him out on the ice in overtime.”
Wilson had been known for throwing slackers under the bus in years past. But he was having none of that with Connolly, perhaps because it was Family Day — though he jokingly quipped: “Thank God you’re not in my family” upon spotting a certain reporter at the MasterCard Centre.
“He’s really only off a little on his career numbers,” Wilson said, adding that there’s more to Connolly’s inconsistencies this season than meets the eye.
“Unfortunately, he missed a part of training camp in the first couple of weeks, and has had little dings that sometimes we haven’t published that I think has affected some of the things that have happened on the ice for him.
“But he’s done a great job killing penalties. And I didn’t foresee him really being our top penalty killer, or one of them, though I expected, I suppose, some more offence,” Wilson added.
There was a feeling heading into the 2011-12 season that Connolly, who posted 65 and 55-point seasons with the Buffalo Sabres, would be a key man on the Leafs power play, at least on the second unit. That hasn’t panned out (he is ninth on the team in overall time on the PP and has two goals with the extra man), though Wilson has given him more shifts on the power play recently in place of the struggling Nikolai Kulemin.
For his part, Connolly won’t let his numbers, or his ice time, throw him for a loop.
“I’m in different position this year than I have been in the past, which is fine with me,” said Connolly, when asked about his time on the power play. “Wherever I’m needed to be utilized, whatever’s best to help the team, whatever’s the best to win games, is fine with me. Our power play has been around the top all year long, so to take a back seat in that department is not really an issue for me.”
Connolly had been asked a few times this season if he has any regrets signing with the Leafs, and his answer continues to be the same.
“Really, I couldn’t be happier,” he insisted. “Right now we’re in eighth place and we’ve got a shot at the playoffs. And that’s the goal, to get the playoffs. And then from there, anything can happen.
“I just like to take it one day at a time and focus on the task at hand and things that you can control,” he said. “And that’s just going out and playing and trying to win hockey games.”