TORONTO – Ron Wilson wasn’t concerned about where the goals were coming from as long as the Toronto Maple Leafs were winning. The coach has started to care.
Ruslan Fedotenko and Artem Anisimov provided all the offence the New York Rangers needed Thursday, scoring first-period goals in a 2-1 victory over the Maple Leafs.
It was the second straight game Toronto saw its offence sputter, prompting Wilson to start juggling his forward lines for the first time this season. It wasn’t enough to spark a comeback.
“They managed to get two (early) and then muddied up the game,” said Wilson. “We didn’t want to get our nose dirty by going into the hard areas, coming across to support the puck. We got what we deserved.”
Tyler Bozak received a strong message from the coach by getting dropped from the top line—”I didn’t think he was playing well,” said Wilson—and only ended up spending 2:09 on the ice in the third period. He didn’t speak to reporters afterwards.
Bozak and Mikhail Grabovski, the team’s top two centres, remain without a goal through six regular-season games. It wasn’t a major concern when Toronto won its first four games, but a further shakeup might be in order now that it has dropped the last two.
“You don’t stand and wait for something to happen,” said Wilson. “It’s my job to make something happen.”
Martin Biron picked up the victory in his first start for the Rangers (2-2-1), who are without three of their top forwards in Marian Gaborik, Vaclav Prospal and Chris Drury.
Colby Armstrong replied with his first of the season for Toronto (4-1-1).
The Rangers looked like the hungrier team all evening. They won battles for the puck, played with urgency and repeatedly sacrificed their bodies—blocking 30 shots (18 of which came from defencemen Michael Del Zotto, Dan Girardi and Michal Rozsival).
“Little things like that make a difference,” said Leafs forward Mike Zigomanis.
It was exactly the kind of effort the Rangers were looking for.
“As a team, I think this was the first time this year that we played a solid 60 minutes,” said Biron. “We have to play up to that standard the rest of the season.”
One bright spot for the Maple Leafs was the play of backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson, who was making his first home start of the season. He looked sharp early in turning away a Ryan Callahan chance with his blocker before shutting the door on an Anisimov rush.
The only shots to beat him came 61 seconds apart near the end of the first period. He finished with 30 saves.
“I felt good,” said Gustavsson. “It doesn’t matter in the end because we didn’t win.”
That 2-0 lead provided a nice cushion for Biron, who wasn’t tested very much by the Leafs in the opening 40 minutes.
Wilson recognized that his team didn’t have its legs and urged them to start trying to create more traffic in front. The habit of staying on the perimeter is also something he thought plagued them during Monday’s 2-1 overtime loss to the New York Islanders.
“The last game we didn’t score a 5-on-5 goal for almost the same reason,” said Wilson. “We weren’t willing to go to the front of the net. If anything, we’ve got some great lessons to be learned.”
Interestingly, Armstrong’s goal came on a play where he was charging to the net. Clarke MacArthur made a nice move to carry the puck into the zone and rang a shot off Biron’s mask before Armstrong cashed in the rebound at 11:04 of the third period.
That gave the Leafs some life, but they couldn’t complete the comeback. Ultimately, the slow start cost them.
“I think that’s the first time (this season) we didn’t play the way we really wanted to play,” said Armstrong. “I think we’re a pretty fast team and at times we were looking a step behind or not winning our battles. … We had our spurts here and there, the last 10 minutes of the third I thought we came on pretty hard, but it was just a little too late.”
They’ll look to right the ship on Saturday in Philadelphia.
“We’re not down on our ourselves at all,” said forward Kris Versteeg, who was stopped on a late breakaway for the second straight game. “We have a lot of confidence in this room and we’ve just got to come back next game ready to play.”
Notes: Leafs forward Phil Kessel has scored at least one goal in nine of his last 12 games, dating to the start of pre-season … The Leafs scratched John Mitchell and Carl Gunnarsson … Steve Eminger sat out for New York … Rangers No. 1 goalie Henrik Lundqvist expects to start 60-65 games this season. He’s averaged 71 over the last four years … Announced attendance was 19,310.