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Maple Leafs hoping for more from centers vs. Canucks

by Mike Brophy

CANUCKS (7-5-5) at MAPLE LEAFS (4-8-4)


TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs' group of centers hope they can break out of a season-long scoring slump when they host the Vancouver Canucks at Air Canada Centre on Saturday.

Although the Maple Leafs have points in four straight games (2-0-2), their centers have struggled to find the net. Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak, Peter Holland, Nick Spaling and Byron Froese have combined to play 62 games this season but have scored five goals. Holland has been shifted to right wing.

"I think we're getting a lot of good looks. It's just a matter of us putting them in," said Kadri, who has one goal in 16 games but is third in the League with a Maple Leafs-high 70 shots on goal. "We've had some bad breaks. But at the same time we're finding ways to win games lately and it's going to be even better once we find ways to put the puck in the back of the net."

Toronto coach Mike Babcock has been complimentary of Kadri's overall performance.

"This is my two cents on [Kadri]," he said. "He has been in my opinion the best forward on our team. He competes every night. He's in on all the chances. He generates a ton. He's a way better player than I expected. In the 100-mile journey he's on mile 25. He's going to get way better as long as he competes. If he wants to be good he's going to be good. It's up to him."

Said Kadri, "I feel like I'm playing great. The coaching staff has given me a lot of encouragement and positive support. If I keep playing the right way and keep playing this well it's only a matter of time before I start to find the net."

Spaling, who has no goals in 13 games, said the Maple Leafs' centers simply have to do a better job at focusing on scoring.

"There have been opportunities, and I think our focus going forward has to be getting pucks to the net and making sure we're there," he said.

Spaling said there is a huge focus on being defensively responsible in Babcock's system but he doesn't think that should affect their ability to score.

"We want to out-play lines and play in their end and lately I think we have been spending too much time in our own zone," Spaling said.

The Canucks are 1-2-1 through the first four games of their seven-game road trip. The Canucks have lost 10 games this season, all by one goal, with four of those losses coming in overtime.

Canucks coach Willie Desjardins said the record is a product of some poor play in the third period early in the season, but he feels the Canucks recently have been better in the third period.

"It's interesting because last year we had a good run in one-goal games [22-4-5]," Desjardins said. "I think we were one of the best teams in the League in that regard. We've had some good third periods lately. Early in the year we made a mistake by sitting back in the third and let teams come to us. We cost ourselves."

Desjardins said the Canucks also need to be better on special teams; their power play is 25th in the League at 14.8 percent, and their penalty kill is 16th at 79.6 percent.

"I think if our play on the special teams was better we wouldn't be in this position," Desjardins said. "This trip especially we have hurt ourselves with our special teams play. Usually that's one of our strengths. Both groups have to get back on their game."

Here are the projected lineups:


Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Jannik Hansen

Sven Baertschi - Bo Horvat - Jake Virtanen

Chris Higgins - Jared McCann - Radim Vrbata

Alexandre Burrows - Adam Cracknell - Derek Dorsett

Alexander Edler - Christopher Tanev

Dan Hamhuis - Yannick Weber

Ben Hutton - Matt Bartkowski

Ryan Miller

Jacob Markstrom

Injured: Luca Sbisa (undisclosed), Brandon Prust (ankle), Brandon Sutter (undisclosed)

Scratched: None


James van Riemsdyk - Nazem Kadri - Leo Komarov

Shawn Matthias - Tyler Bozak - PA Parenteau

Daniel Winnik - Nick Spaling - Joffrey Lupul

Michael Grabner - Byron Froese - Peter Holland

Jake Gardiner - Dion Phaneuf

Matt Hunwick - Morgan Rielly

Scott Harrington - Roman Polak

James Reimer

Jonathan Bernier

Injured: Nathan Horton (back), Stephane Robidas (groin), Petter Granberg (Achilles)

Scratched: Frank Corrado, Martin Marincin, Brad Boyes

Status report: Sutter is a game-time decision. … Sbisa and Prust could join the Canucks on the road Saturday but are not expected to play.

Who's hot: Edler and Baertschi each have two goals in their past three games. … Henrik Sedin has two goals and four points in the past two games. … Bozak has points in five of Toronto's past six games. … Reimer has won back-to-back games for the first time since March 28 and March 31 last season.

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