TORONTO – Coach Ron Wilson is concerned all the recent good press the Toronto Maple Leafs have been given might be going to his young players’ heads.
The Maple Leafs’ youth movement, which has been credited for much of the team’s recent success in winning three in a row and six of seven, seemed to take a step back Tuesday in a 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers.
Wilson in particular criticized the play of his top line of young forwards Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak and Nikolai Kulemin. The trio had played well heading into Tuesday’s game but were each minus-1 with no points against the Panthers.
“Our top line wasn’t very good tonight,” Wilson said. “All they’re reading about themselves everyday in the papers is how great they are and then they’re not quite sharp enough or ready to play and this happens. So it’s a good lesson learned for a lot of our guys.”
The Leafs have shown youthful jump and enthusiasm recently , but centre John Mitchell said that can cut both ways.
“(We have) a lot of young guys and this is the NHL and obviously you have to try and do it consistently night in and night out,” said Mitchell, 25. “That’s obviously a learning curve for young players, that you have to do it each and every night and do the same things that get you victories in other games.”
One area where the young Leafs struggle is on the power play. The team has just three goals in its last 60 chances on the man advantage after going 0-for-6 against Florida. That’s a 6.7 per cent conversion rate – the league’s second-worst power play.
Blue-liner Francois Beauchemin said the trouble against Florida stemmed from Toronto’s inability to penetrate the zone.
“A lot of it was from the break out,” he said. “When we had possession of the puck in the offensive zone we were all right, we were moving around pretty good. Again, lots of good shots, but not enough guys in front of the net and the goalie saw a lot of those pucks.”
Mitchell says a big part of the solution comes down to work ethic.
“We have to work harder to get pucks back, especially when we have to dump the puck in a lot like tonight,” he said. “When we dump pucks in, we’ve got to get three guys over there, swarm the puck and get it back to our point men. And when we do that, we’ve got to establish a shot, that will draw them out and then we can make some more plays.
“But we’ve got to get the puck first in order to do that.”