TORONTO – There is frustration and disappointment to be found throughout the Toronto Maple Leafs lineup, but nowhere was it more evident following Thursday’s 4-1 loss to Philadelphia than on the face of Phil Kessel.
The winger had just completed his seventh straight game without scoring a goal and didn’t mince words when asked about his play.
“I’m disappointed in myself obviously,” said Kessel. “I’m getting chances to score goals, I’m just not burying them. I’ve got to bear down and find a way to get it done. … They brought me in here to score goals and right now I’m (in) a big struggle.
“I’ve got to figure it out.”
With no changes on the horizon, he’s far from alone. GM Brian Burke’s personal holiday trade freeze kicks in on Friday and won’t be lifted until Dec. 28, leaving the current group in charge of trying to turn things around—a message assistant GM Dave Nonis delivered directly in a closed-door meeting last week.
The Leafs were undone in familiar fashion against the Flyers: allowing the first goal for the fifth straight game, failing to convert some high-quality chances and subsequently falling too far behind.
The score was 3-0 before Mikhail Grabovski finally beat Philadelphia goalie Brian Boucher late in the second period.
“It’s not good enough,” said Kessel. “We’ve been giving ourselves some holes here and in the NHL you can’t come back all the time from those leads.”
His personal struggles have mirrored that of the team. Kessel’s got off to a strong start with seven goals in the first eight games of the season, but has found the back of the net just three times in the 20 games since.
Not surprisingly, the goal-starved Leafs are 5-12-3 during that stretch.
“He’s just got to keep shooting the puck,” said Leafs head coach Ron Wilson. “He was getting fed tonight. When he gets those opportunities, the puck’s going to go in. Hopefully, it breaks the slump.”
The Flyers attack was paced by Danny Briere, who boosted his team-leading goal total to 16 by scoring twice and adding an assist.
Ville Leino and Chris Pronger also had goals for Philadelphia (18-7-5).
“I thought we played a good game, for the most part,” said Flyers coach Peter Laviolette. “There was a few minutes in the second period at the end where we were a little bit loose, but I think overall we were pretty good defensively, pretty good on the attack and we came out skating right away.”
Grabovski had the only goal for the Maple Leafs (10-14-4), scoring his third in as many games.
The return of captain Dion Phaneuf didn’t have much of an impact—although he forced a turnover and earned an assist on Grabovski’s goal. The defenceman logged 24 minutes 36 seconds of ice time and said afterwards that he felt fine in his first game since having his leg cut by a skate on Nov. 2.
The coach would have preferred to ease him in a bit more.
“He did a lot of good things, but it looked like he (got) tired,” said Wilson. “We probably used him a wee bit too much, but when you end up down in a game like that fairly early, your bench gets a little bit shorter.”
Neither team appeared to be hampered much while playing for the second straight night. The Leafs generated some early scoring chances—Colby Armstrong was denied by Boucher from point blank—before Philadelphia got on the board with goals just 1:19 apart.
The first came on a long shot from Leino that squeeked through the pads of J.S. Giguere.
“It was not a good goal,” said Giguere. “It kind of took our energy away.”
The energy never truly returned. The Air Canada Centre crowd booed through the night—a familiar refrain in recent weeks—and a fan threw some food on the ice after the final buzzer sounded.
It ended up near the stick of defenceman Francois Beauchemin.
“It’s frustrating for everybody and they’re allowed to do what they want,” he said. “I can’t blame them for being frustrated the way we’re playing.”
Added Giguere: “They have not much to be excited about, to be honest.”
Notes:Wayne Gretzky took in thegame with his father Walter … Mike Komisarek and Jay Rosehill sat out with “upper-body injuries,” according to the Leafs … Carl Gunnarsson was a healthy scratch … Philadelphia goalie Michael Leighton remains on the sidelines with a back injury. He’s hasn’t played since a pre-season game in Toronto … It was just Giguere’s second start in the last 11 games … Announced attendance was 19,365.