The goals haven't been coming for Dion Phaneuf since the Toronto Maple Leafs acquired him last season from the Calgary Flames, but a big reason why Toronto GM Brian Burke wanted the rough-and-tumble defenseman was for the fear he inspires in the opposition with his bone-crunching hits, and Phaneuf hasn't disappointed one bit in that category.
Just ask Matt Beleskey of the Anaheim Ducks … or Tuomo Ruutu of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Midway through the first period of the Maple Leafs' game with the Ducks on Jan. 20, Phaneuf caught Beleskey playing the puck along the boards in his defensive zone and crushed the Anaheim forward just inside the blue line. Toronto trailed 1-0 at the time, but not long after the hit Clarke MacArthur scored and the Leafs went on to a 5-2 victory.
Phaneuf picked up an assist that night and has had one in each of the two games since. He only has 1 goal this season and 3 goals in 58 games since joining Toronto after scoring at least 10 goals in each of his first five NHL seasons in Calgary. He missed 16 games this season after suffering a serious skate laceration that required surgery on his leg.
"I want to produce," Phaneuf told the Toronto Sun. "It's part of my job. I've said that all along. But I was hurt this year, so how am I going to put up the same numbers by missing that many games?"
The physical part of Phaneuf's game always has been present, though.
It didn't take long after the puck dropped Monday for Ruutu to find that out. The Hurricanes were moving up the ice, with defenseman Jay Harrison sending the puck from behind his net to forward Chad LaRose, who sent a pass from the right-wing boards to Ruutu cutting up the center of the ice. Or at least he was until Phaneuf laid him out with the type of open-ice check that would have made Scott Stevens proud.
"I've asked him to be more physically involved and let the other team know early in the game that he's into it," coach Ron Wilson told the Windsor Star. "That's when you really see him on his game."
The final result Monday, a 6-4 loss to Carolina, was disappointing to Phaneuf and the Leafs, who enter Tuesday's games 12th in the Eastern Conference standings, trying to cut into a double-digit points deficit in the playoff race.
"We fought back, gave ourselves a chance to win the game and then they come back and bang, bang (with goals)," said Phaneuf. "We had a lot of fight in us (Monday) to come back, but it's still disappointing to lose those points that are right there for us."