TORONTO – Ron Wilson is willing to try just about anything to get the Toronto Maple Leafs scoring.
The coach has tinkered with lines, brought John Mitchell down from the press box and repeatedly scolded his 4-2-1 team for not going to the “hard areas” during its current three-game losing streak.
But one place he’s not looking for increased production is from captain Dion Phaneuf. In fact, Wilson would like to see the defenceman put a little less effort into scoring for the first time this season.
“He shouldn’t be worried about that,” said Wilson. “Those things will come to you. This is just about defending and playing better in our end. He’s resting a little bit and trying to go on the attack because that’s all he hears, (that) he doesn’t score.
“That’s not what he hears from us. We want him to just play solid defence and the offence will be there.”
On the eve of the regular season, Phaneuf indicated he would like to get back to the goal totals he had early in his career with the Calgary Flames. The 25-year-old scored 20 as a rookie in 2005-06—a total that has only been surpassed by three current Maple Leafs at any point during their careers.
Goals have been much tougher to come by since arriving in Toronto via trade midway through last season. He has just two in 33 games as a member of the Maple Leafs, including none through the opening seven games this year.
It’s not for lack of trying. Heading into Tuesday’s game against Florida (Rogers Sportsnet Ontario, 7 p.m. ET), the defenceman sat second on the team with 24 shots. He’s had another 14 attempts miss the net.
“Sometimes they go (in), sometimes they don’t,” said Phaneuf. “I’ve played enough now to know you don’t get too caught up in it. As long as you’re getting the shots, that’s the main thing. I’m confident it’s going to go in.”
The most important stat for the Leafs when it comes to Phaneuf is their record since his arrival—17-12-4. While the credit for that is not his alone (goalie J.S. Giguere joined the team the same day), there has been a clear shift in attitude since Phaneuf entered the dressing room.
With the team currently adrift, the captain spoke Monday about the importance of remaining even keel. The Leafs have scored just four times during the stretch and have a number of players still searching for their first goal—including top two centres Tyler Bozak and Mikhail Grabovski.
Both have acknowledged feeling a little bit frustrated.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t,” said Bozak. “Obviously, you want to produce. I haven’t being playing my best this year so far. The good thing is that it’s early and there’s a lot of hockey here left.”
Phaneuf hopes to simplify his game. He committed a couple of ghastly turnovers during Saturday’s loss in Philadelphia and was given just over 15 minutes of ice time—eight minutes less than his average this season.
“You don’t want to do too much,” said Phaneuf. “I think we’ve all been guilty of it and myself too. We’ve tried to do too much, and that’s not the type of team that we have—we’re a simple team that works hard every night and that’s how we get results.
“I think we’ve all been guilty of it, myself included, and we’ve got to get back on track.”
Wilson was coaching the San Jose Sharks when Phaneuf entered the NHL and believes that teams have adapted to his style of play over the years—going to great lengths to try and take away his big point shot.
As a result, he has to find other ways to contribute.
“The last guy I’m worried about is Dion,” said Wilson. “He’s just got to stop listening to some of this … drivel about (how) he’s not putting points on the board. What’s important to us is winning the hockey game and contributing that way. Not, `you’re not scoring points.’
“It’s irrelevant when you’re a defenceman. You’ve got to help stop the other team from scoring.”