Leafs' defence a problem

Maple Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn is checked by Blackhawks forward Brandon Bollig at the United...

Maple Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn is checked by Blackhawks forward Brandon Bollig at the United Center in Chicago, Ill., Feb. 29, 2012. (FRANK POLICH/Reuters)

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:31 PM ET

TORONTO - The Toronto Maple Leafs have problems. That’s not exactly a news flash. But what’s their biggest weakness?

Is it goaltending? Jonas Gustavsson and James Reimer are struggling and seem to have lost confidence. Is it secondary scoring, or lack thereof? Last year, the Mikhail Grabovski-Clarke MacArthur-Nikolai Kulemin line was the highest-scoring unit on the team. This season they’re struggling to score on a consistent basis. Is it head coach Ron Wilson? That seems to be the overriding sentiment in Leafs Nation.

Yes, goaltending and secondary scoring are major concerns. But perhaps the biggest weakness on this team is their supposed strength. Defence.

The defence is supposed to be Toronto’s strong point.

But that’s not been the case. Far from it.

There have been far too many defensive breakdowns in their own end, missed-assignments and giveaways, which was the big story, of course, in Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to the Florida Panthers, and was apparent again on Wednesday night, starting with Jake Gardiner, who allowed Andrew Shaw to walk out from out of the corner and move to the slot for a shot on Gustavsson, and a goal. Gardiner has been a revelation for the Leafs this season. But he’s logging more ice time than he probably should due to the fact that the club’s more experienced defenceman have been wildly inconsistent. Captain Dion Phaneuf plays hard, but he been caught out of position far too often this season. Another veteran, Mike Komisarek, has been a healthy scratch more times than not recently and Schenn, while still delivering big hits and fighting for his teammates, has been a disaster in his own end on a regular basis.

But one of the biggest problems on the blue line has been the lack of production from John-Michael Liles. Since returning from a concussion suffered earlier in the season, Liles has one point in 14 games — nowhere near enough from a guy who’s supposed to help quarterback the power play and provide the Leafs with some offence from the back end.

GAME MUSINGS

The Hawks were ripe for the taking, having lost six of their past 10 and three straight — where they were outscored 10-2. Against the Leafs, they were without a number of key players because of injuries, including star centre Jonathan Toews and defencemen Niklas Hjalmarsson and Steve Montador. It was the second game in a row the Leafs caught a break. The Panthers were without their leading scorer, Kris Versteeg, on Tuesday ... The Leafs came out flying against the Hawks and look relieved to be out of the pressure cooker that is the Air Canada Centre. In their four-game homestand before going to Chicago, the Leafs were 0-3-1. At the United Center they used their speed effectively and just looked far more confident, at least early, scoring the opening goal in the opening minute by Tyler Bozak ... Prior to Wednesday’s game Toronto had given up the first two goals in five straight games, and 11 first period goals in their last seven ... The Leafs’ fourth line, David Steckel, Mike Brown and Joey Crabb, really let the team down against the Hawks, though Brown did score a late meaningless goal. Time and again, they were caught running around in their own end ... The goal by Marcus Kruger with 30 seconds left in the first period was a killer for the Leafs, as late goals often are. It gave the Hawks a big lift heading into the second and, sure enough, the home side scored two in a row in the second ... Viktor Stalberg, whom Brian Burke traded to Chicago in 2010 in a multi-player deal, is having a career year with the Hawks, with 16 goals and 16 assists in 61 games, and is on target for 20 ... Phil Kessel has six goals and 11 assists in his past 13 games.

PRE-GAME RAMBLINGS

Schenn was still whining about the fans at the ACC and their sarcastic booing. Get over it ... Wilson elected not to do pre-game media with TSN ... In a pre-game interview, Chicago defenceman Brent Seabrook said he was looking forward to playing with Johnny Oduya, who was playing his first game with the Hawks after being acquired from Winnipeg. Famous last words. Oduya was on the ice for all three Toronto goals in the first and was no longer playing with Seabrook in the second.


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