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Wilson unhappy with Leafs' lagging shot totals

by John McGourty
"Shoot the puck!"

How many times have you yelled that during your favorite team's power play, all the while the players pass, pass, pass and seldom get off a shot? It's one of the most maddening aspects of being a hockey fan.

Apparently, it's also one of the most maddening things about coaching this year's Toronto Maple Leafs. Coach Ron Wilson isn't pleased that his club ranks 18th in the NHL with 28.2 shots per game. Not surprisingly, the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings lead the NHL with 38.8.

Toronto's 9 goals through Sunday were the second-fewest in the NHL. In 3 of the 5 games, the Maple Leafs scored 1 goal or less. They were shut out by the New York Rangers, scored once against Montreal and Pittsburgh, had 3 goals against Detroit on opening night and 4 goals in the 5-4 loss to the St. Louis Blues.


"Toskala still played a great game, which was expected..."


"The 3rd time in 4 games, the Leafs fall to penalty shots..."

The Boston Bruins lead the Northeast Division and are sixth in the NHL with 30.8 shots per game, followed by Montreal (30.7, 7th), Buffalo (30.2, 11th), Toronto and Ottawa (26.6, 26th).

You'd like to think that every goal in the NHL is a work of art, the result of years of improving skill, strength and accuracy, but a study done years ago by Geoff and Russ Courtnall showed that 47 percent of goals slid in along the ice. Mario Lemieux would once in a while, dare I say, "take a flyer" and whip a shot along the goal line that would bounce in off a goalie's back or butt.

Sidney Crosby got a goal like that against the Maple Leafs, bouncing a bad-angle shot from the corner off Mikhail Grabovski.

"I was just throwing it out front," Crosby said. "Throw it at the net, and good things happen. I got a great bounce."

"He obviously had a little luck on his goal," Wilson said.

The thought apparently stuck with him because Wilson put the Maple Leafs through a 90-minute practice Monday to focus on shooting.

"We're trying to find ways to score goals ugly," Wilson told the media after Monday's practice. "Two of the best offensive players we have in the game (Crosby and Evgeni Malkin) threw pucks at the net against us and they resulted in a couple of ugly goals that we're not scoring enough of. They'd get the puck in the corner and dump it in front of the net. You hope for a lucky break and tip one in. We can learn from those teams."

Jason Blake, who was fifth in the NHL last season with 334 shots, led the Maple Leafs through Sunday with 24 shots, followed by Nik Hagman's 18. Blake, though, again has a low scoring percentage, 4.2 percent. Compare that to Nikolai Kulemin, who has scored on 22 percent of his 9 shots. Shoot, Nikolai!

Some of the statistics are startling. Matt Stajan had no shots in his 4 games while averaging 10:57 minutes per game. Alexander Steen had 4 shots while averaging 16:45 in 5 games. Grabovski had 6 shots while averaging 16:32 in 5 games.

The lack of shooting may cost Alexei Ponikarovsky his job centering the first line. Wilson is taking a look at using rookie John Mitchell between Blake and Nik Antropov.

As the old saying goes, "100 percent of shots that you don't take, don't go in."

Quite the first impression -- Alex Auld tied an ancient NHL record that's been tied only once before when he defeated the Penguins in Stockholm in his Ottawa Senators debut.

Auld has played for five teams, Ottawa, Boston, Florida, Vancouver and Phoenix, and won his first game with each of them. The great Lorne Chabot, the 1930s goalie whom many think is the most deserving player not in the Hockey Hall of Fame, set the record and Phil Myre tied it.

Can't win for losing -- Speaking of great Maple Leafs goalies, Vesa Toskala had a unique night Oct. 17 when he shut out the Rangers and lost. Say what?

Toskala shut out New York through regulation time and the overtime before giving up a goal in the shootout. Under NHL rules, that counts as a shutout, gives him no goals against in 65 minutes of play and a loss.

The shutout was quite an accomplishment by historical standards. No Toronto goalie had shut out the Rangers in New York since Johnny Bower beat them Jan. 10, 1965, at the old Madison Square Garden. Toskala is thus the first Maple Leafs goalie ever to shut out the Rangers in their current home rink. It was tempting, but seemingly not proper, to refer to it as the "new Madison Square Garden" because it opened 40 years ago.

No Maple Leafs goalie has shut out the Rangers in Toronto since Bower accomplished the trick in a 6-0 win on Feb. 15, 1967, at Maple Leaf Gardens.

400 and counting -- Congratulations to Lindy Ruff. The Buffalo Sabres head coach recorded his 400th victory last Wednesday, only the eighth coach in NHL history to accomplish the feat. Actually, Scott Bowman did it twice, with Montreal and Detroit. The 15th coach in Sabres' history, Ruff is the longest-tenured coach in the NHL. He took over Buffalo's reins on July 21, 1997.

Unique distinction -- Some records are obvious -- most goals in a season, most assists in a career, lowest goals-against average -- and some you really have to search for. Toronto Maple Leafs winger Nikolai Kulemin has one of the latter. In the Maple Leafs' opening game on Oct. 9 in Detroit's Joe Louis Arena, Kulemin became the first player since Eric Lindros in 1993 to score a goal in his NHL debut against the defending Stanley Cup champion. Kulemin's goal was the game winner. Lindros scored against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Seven other Maple Leafs have scored in their debut in the last 20 years, including Jiri Tlusty, Jeremy Williams, Matt Stajan, Adam Mair, David Sacco, Nikolai Borschevsky and Daniel Marois. We loved the way Borschevsky skated and the energy he brought to every shift, but he was never the same after his splenectomy. Last we heard, he's teaching skating in the Toronto area.

Northeast milestones -- In Northeast Division milestones, Thomas Vanek got his 200th NHL point on Oct. 15 against the New York Rangers and linemate Jason Pominville got his 100th assist Oct. 13 against the New York Islanders. Vanek's penalty killing is a big reason why the Sabres didn't give up a goal in their first 18 man-down situations. Meanwhile, he has two shorthanded goals.

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