This is not the team you want.
It is, however, the team you will sometimes get.
The Maple Leafs looked ordinary at best for 50 minutes in dropping a 2-1 decision to the New York Rangers, Thursday at Air Canada Centre.
After a run of nine points in 10 games, the Leafs got down early, struggled intermittently, challenged late and went home losers.
Let’s see. The defence was, with the exception of Luke Schenn
, flighty and error-prone. Tyler Bozak
, the team’s number one centre, was benched for much of the third. He played 13 minutes, seven less than linemate Phil Kessel
The Leafs managed 25 shots against Rangers’ back-up Marty Biron who was making his first appearance of the season. The Rangers fired 32 at Jonas Gustavsson
who was terrific.
Secondary scoring has shown itself to be worthy of concern. The Leafs have scored 18 goals, 10 of them from Clarke MacArthur
and Phil Kessel
and eight from everybody else.
The Rangers got all the scoring they would need in the first when Ruslan Fedetenko tapped a puck that was sitting on the goal line into the white ice after a prolonged Rangers‘ siege. Artem Anisimov beat Tomas Kaberle to the crease and tipped in the Rangers second marker. Two goals within 1:01 decided things.
The balance of the game would be full of sluggish play punctuated by good scoring chances for the visitors.
“We never went to the front of the net and won a battle,” bemoaned Leafs coach Ron Wilson. “You’re not going to score when the other team is going to pack five guys around their goaltender.”
The numbers bear it out. The Rangers blocked 30 shots in the game compared to 12 for the Leafs. Somehow, they found plenty of room to counterattack.
“We weren’t supporting the puck and we were trying to make the home run plays,” said Luke Schenn
, a bright spot on the night. “They were catching us on it. We had too many odd-man rushes against us.”
After an overtime loss against the Islanders in which they were saddled with two unallowed goals, the Leafs were full marks for the defeat. No one went home questioning the referees.
The Leafs power play, rated 11th before the game, could do nothing with five advantages and as many chances. The Leafs, for their part, killed off all two penalties they incurred.Colby Armstrong
scored his first goal as a Maple Leaf
when he took advantage of excellent work from MacArthur and swatted a rebound past Rangers backup Martin Biron with nine minutes left to play. A few seconds later, Mikhail Grabovski
was tapped just enough to prompt a penalty to Brandon Prust. A few seconds after that, Kaberle delivered a sublime pass that sent Kris Versteeg alone on Biron who stopped him. Versteeg is still stalled on one goal and the difficulties of the main line ripple through the lineup.
“We had our spurts here and there,” Armstrong said. “We came on pretty hard the last 10 minutes. We just weren’t winning a lot of battles. They had the puck quite a bit and we found ourselves chasing.”
The Rangers delivered a superb road game from the opening whistle.
“They got on us right away,” said Leafs fourth liner Mike Zigomanis
“and hemmed us in our own end from the beginning of the night.”
Bozak was minus one with no shots.
“I didn’t think he was playing well,” said Wilson. “I made some changes going into the third period. Steeger (Versteeg) can play centre and it shook things up. I moved Army (Armstrong) up and on his first shift with Grabo and Clarke MacArthur
he scored a goal.
“I won’t hesitate (to bench a player). A lot of our top players did not play well, they played on the outside. It’s a good lesson for our team that talking about it is one thing but actually getting involved in the game is another.”
It’s a lesson that will be relearned often. Bozak has no goals and piddling six shots in six games. Versteeg has just 10 shots. The line is built, of course, to maximize Kessel who has 24 shots but clearly goals have to come from all over the ice. An underwhelming first unit has often been picked up by the number two line but the unit of Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin
or MacArthur could not unearth a lot of chances.
The result is a dearth of scoring that pressures defencemen and goaltenders and leaves little margin for error. Gustavsson was the tough-luck loser. He deserved better.
After a fine start, the Leafs have begun to struggle offensively. The result has been a good performance that produced a point and a poor one that nearly did.
That’s not a crisis by anyone’s definition, but unless the rosy opening days are to be consigned to memory, somebody has better bloody well score.