Star wingers need to step up for depleted Leafs | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaStar wingers need to step up for depleted Leafs

Posted: Friday, November 15, 2013 | 11:00 PM

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Toronto Maple Leafs sniper Phil Kessel (81) is now in the midst of a one-point-in-six-game slump. (Gary Wiepert/Associated Press) Toronto Maple Leafs sniper Phil Kessel (81) is now in the midst of a one-point-in-six-game slump. (Gary Wiepert/Associated Press)

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Losing your top three centres is not an ideal situation for any team. It does not, however, give the rest of the Toronto Maple Leafs players a pass for the time those players are out of service, writes Mike Brophy. So perhaps Toronto's 3-1 loss to the last place Buffalo Sabres should not come as a surprise.


Losing your top three centres is not an ideal situation for any team.

Duh!

It does not, however, give the rest of the team a pass for the time those players are out of service.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are playing without the injured Tyler Bozak and David Bolland as well as the suspended Nazem Kadri so perhaps their 3-1 loss to the last place Buffalo Sabres should not come as a surprise. Doesn't make it any easier to swallow, however.

It was Toronto's third straight defeat in a three-game road trip, although to the Maple Leafs credit they picked up a point in a shootout defeat in Minnesota Wednesday. The Maple Leafs and Sabres hook up again Saturday night in Toronto.

The Sabres appeared to be charged up by the changes in their organization this week which included the firing of general manager Darcy Regier and coach Ron Ralston, replaced by former Sabres coach Ted Noland and Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine who will select the next GM. The Maple Leafs, on the other hand, played well and had a chance to win right down to the final minute, but continue to be let down by their top players.

Things to consider

Leafs newcomer David Clarkson played his heart out and drew an assist on his team's only goal. It was his second helper of the season, but he has now gone nine games without a goal since returning form a 10-game suspension.

Phil Kessel brought the fans out of their seats with a nifty end-to-end rush for a goal against New Jersey last Friday night, but is now in the midst of a one-point-in-six-game slump. He has stopped going hard to the net as he does when he is more productive.

James van Riemsdyk willing accepted the switch to centre from wing to centre, but it has not worked out. He has no points in his last five games and is minus-3. Time to get him back to the wing.

Mason Raymond had a fine start to his year, but has just two goals in his past 12 games.

Joffrey Lupul is pointless in two games and has just two goals and no assists in the past eight contests.

The point being, the Maple Leafs have enough scoring potential in the lineup, but the high-end players are not coming through for them.

"The one thing we could do, to be plain and simple, is put the puck toward the net - and drive people towards the net - shoot the puck toward the net and don't try to be so fine," Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. "It seems like we're trying to pick the top corners and pick spots instead of just shooting and concentrating on getting more pucks to the net. If we get that second and third opportunity I think we'd be rewarded."

Carlyle wasn't totally put off by his team's effort.

"I thought our work ethic was good and we played hard," he said. "We didn't have a great number of second opportunities. The puck was bouncing away from us and yet we had our chance in the hockey game and you have to look at the difference and that was the power play; they get a power play goal and we didn't get one."

Bernier did his part

Don't hang the loss on Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier. He played very well. Bernier and James Reimer had combined on a sparkling 1.54 goals-against average the previous seven games.

Welcome back, Ted

Sabres coach Ted Nolan returned to the NHL for the first time replacing Ron Rolston behind the bench of the Sabres. The NHL's coach of the year in 1996-97 with Buffalo is considered a 'player's coach' and has his work cut out with him directing the NHL's worst team. One of his biggest challenges will be trying to get Buffalo defenceman Tyler Myers back on track. Myers, a six-foot-eight and 230-pounder, has been struggling the past two years. He was the NHL's rookie of the year in 2009-10 and getting Myers going would go a long way in getting the Sabres going.

First period blues

If the Maple Leafs wanted to play with the Sabres minds, the time to do it was in the first period. Heading into Friday's game Buffalo had been out-scored 27-3 in the opening period. For the first time this season, the Sabres out-shot an opponent in the opening frame, 10-5. Buffalo also hit a cross bar and post.

Second period hurrahs!

Toronto took a 1-0 lead early in the second period when Marlies captain Trevor Smith, recalled from the AHL to address the Maple Leafs centre depletion, scored his second NHL goal of the season on a snap shot from high in the slot that was deflected by a Buffalo defender. For only the third time this season the sabres carried a lead into the third period.

Great Scott

Buffalo enforcer John Scott made his return to action since being suspended seven games after bashing Boston's Loui Eriksson in the head with a hit Oct. 23. Scott was involved in a brouhaha with Toronto in the pre-season when he tried to instigate a fight with Maple Leafs skilled winger Phil Kessel. He averaged 4:57 ice time in his seven games this season, but in his first game back and his first game with Ted Nolan as his coach he played 7:31. His previous high was 6:03 vs. Colorado Oct. 19.

Nolan instantly redefined Scott's role, from being a bench-sitting goon to a physical player who doesn't jeopardize his tam every time he's on the ice. Keep in mind, it is only one game.

The Maple Leafs made no attempts to engage Scott into a fight although defenceman Paul Ranger nailed him with a hit and knocked him down in the first period.

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