TORONTO – With only one gifted goal-scorer in his lineup, Ron Wilson is asking the rest of the slumping Toronto Maple Leafs to try and fake their way through it.
The team saw its goal drought reach 122 minutes 24 seconds with Saturday’s 2-0 loss to the New York Rangers. While Henrik Lundqvist played a big part in the outcome with 36 saves for the Rangers, the Leafs coach felt his players helped make the Swedish goaltender look good.
The majority of their shots came from the outside. And when the team was presented with a good opportunity from in close, it failed to capitalize.
“We’ve got to just find a way around the front of the net,” said Wilson. “Be sharper, be ready, think like a goal-scorer. We’ve got a lot of guys on our team … who don’t have a resume that says they’ve scored anywhere. We’ve only got two or three guys who feel comfortable with some scoring chances.
“Other guys, maybe they get a little nervous when they’re in tight.”
The team has only scored seven goals in its last six games, going 1-4-1 during that stretch.
There doesn’t appear to be a miracle cure for the scoring woes, either. Toronto’s AHL farm team has also had its share of offensive struggles this season and general manager Brian Burke has yet to find a trading partner offering the kind of player he covets.
Meantime, the Leafs are entering their first set of back-to-back games this season. They hope to rediscover their offence before hosting Ottawa on Tuesday and visiting Washington on Wednesday.
“No one’s going to come in and help us get out of this,” said captain Dion Phaneuf. “It’s the guys that are in this room that are going to get us out of this and we’re confident we will.”
There is some solace to be found in the amount of chances they generated against the Rangers. Toronto attempted 92 shots—21 missed the goal, 35 were blocked and another 36 were stopped by Lundqvist.
“He’s good on his angles,” Leafs forward Clark MacArthur said of the Rangers goalie. “If he’s going to see pucks, he’s going to stop them. He’s fortunate to have a team like that where they’re diving in front of everything and they clog it up. We had our chances, we had point-blank chances.
“We just didn’t capitalize.”
Playing for the third time in four nights, the Rangers didn’t have a ton of energy. They were opportunistic with their chances, getting a first-period goal from Brian Boyle on the rush before Ryan Callahan converted a penalty shot late in the second.
“We started off slow, but we got our legs going,” said New York coach John Tortorella. “I thought we did a really good job of playing a simple game and just grinding—because it was a tired team, but we found a way to win.”
Down the hallway, Toronto was contemplating how it found a way to lose.
The list of frustrated Leafs was long: Phaneuf led the team with seven shots as he put everything he could at the Rangers net; Tyler Bozak had no less than three glorious chances, but remained stuck with just one goal on the season; and Mikhail Grabovski is still looking for his first, watching as Lundqvist sprawled in his crease to deny him late in the game.
They looked like a discouraged group when the horn sounded for the second intermission. The Leafs had completely outplayed the Rangers, directing 18 shots at Lundqvist in the second period, but found themselves down 2-0.
It didn’t get any better in the final 20 minutes.
“I don’t think you worry until you don’t get chances,” said Leafs forward Tim Brent. “We’re getting lots of chances. Guys are just a little bit snake-bitten right now. We’re not pushing the panic button, we’re doing a lot of things well.
“It’s going to come for us.”
One thing Wilson would like to see is his players creating more traffic in front. The team is relatively small up front and has a tendency to keep the play to the outside.
Despite that, the coach described his team’s 5-4-1 record through 10 games a “good start.”
“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but I’m not discouraged at all,” said Wilson. “We’re getting our opportunities. We’ve got to find a way to score.”
Notes:The teams both have 5-4-1 records … Three of Boyle’s four goals this season have come against Toronto … Christian Hanson was called up from the AHL Marlies and centred the Leafs fourth line … Mike Zigomanis, John Mitchell and Brett Lebda were scratched for Toronto … The Rangers sat out Todd White and Michael Sauer … Announced attendance was 19,063.