There are a number of holes in the Toronto Maple Leafs
' game these days, but perhaps the most glaring is the lack of scoring support from the blue-line.
Through 27 games, the Maple Leafs have just three goals from defencemen -- two from Dion Phaneuf and the other by Paul Ranger. Players expected to contribute -- the likes of Cody Franson, Jake Gardiner and even 19-year-old Morgan Rielly -- have been silent.
To put it in perspective, 21 NHL defencemen have scored more goals as individuals than the Leafs' blue-liners have scored as a group.
Toronto coach Randy Carlyle is as surprised and frustrated as anybody with his team's lack of production from defence.
"We have to find ways for our defence to be involved more," he said. "I think there are a couple of simple ways. No. 1, get pucks through from the point.... No. 2 is when to join the rush and make it a three-on-two. Guys like Jake Gardiner, Dion Phaneuf, Paul Ranger, Morgan Rielly... are players who are adept at getting up in the play. They have to pick the right time and the right spot to go."
Franson leads Toronto's defenders with 13 points -- all assists. Phaneuf, who broke into the NHL with Calgary scoring 54 goals in his first three seasons, has two goals and 10 points. Rielly has had a number of good scoring chances and has eight assists, but has yet to register his first big-league goal.
Ranger, who is working hard to get back to NHL form after three years out of hockey and one year in the AHL, has a respectable one goal and seven points. Carl Gunnarsson, a stay-at-home defender, has one assist in 27 games and Mark Fraser has one assist in 12 games.
"We definitely want to see more offence from our defensive corps," Gardiner said. "I don't what that's all about, if we're not having any puck luck or not getting shots through. I'm sure they'll start coming. I'm trying to get more pucks to the net, but nothing seems to be going in."
The Maple Leafs have a couple of hot-shot scoring defenders playing with the Marlies, but to bring up T.J. Brennan and/or John-Michael Liles is complicated. The only players the Maple Leafs can send down who do not have to pass through waivers are centre Peter Holland and left-winger Carter Ashton.
Even Trevor Smith will have to pass through waivers when the Maple Leafs get healthy, should they decide to send him down. But, with three goals and seven points in 16 games, he might get nabbed by another NHL team.
Brennan has 11 goals and 22 points in 20 games with the Marlies, while Liles has three goals and 12 points in 15 games.Discipline problem
The Maple Leafs are in a tail spin (four losses in a row after Saturday's setback
in Montreal), and the schedule ahead is a tough one. They host the San Jose Sharks Tuesday, the Dallas Stars Thursday, play in Ottawa Saturday and then host the Boston Bruins Sunday.
Carlyle believes the Leafs can turn their fortunes by making a few small tweaks.
"The one thing that has bitten us more than anything else is our discipline. For whatever reason, it seems like we're on the short side of all the power plays and penalty-killing advantages, thus our penalty killing has been taxed.
"We have given up our third man far too many times where we are giving up too many rushes and we're vacating the most critical area of the ice in the defensive zone -- the middle -- and we're not protecting it well enough. Those are easy, in our minds, to fix."Lights, camera...
The HBO cameras have been around lately, recording material for this year's 24/7 special featuring the Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings.
Carlyle said he's had to adjust.
"It is a little different when you have a guy sitting on the floor in front of you with a camera during a team meeting. I have to hold my profanity to a minimum."Kadri, Clarkson split
The Maple Leafs changed personnel on a few of their lines for practice Monday. The biggest change was separating centre Nazem Kadri and right-winger David Clarkson.
Carlyle said the duo simply was not creating enough offensive chances.
Clarkson has just two goals and five points in 17 games and has not been the physical contributor he was with the New Jersey Devils. Saturday night in Montreal, with his team playing flat, would have been a perfect time for Clarkson to step up to the plate physically, but it didn't happen. He had just one hit in the game.Lupul skates
Joffrey Lupul, who is out with a groin injury
, took to the ice at MasterCard Centre on Monday morning before practice. He did some light skating and shooting drills. Lupul did not participate in practice.
Defenceman Cody Franson also missed practice with a lower-body injury, as did forward Jay McClement. Both were given maintenance days.Kessel on strong pace
Right-winger Phil Kessel has two goals in his past six games and four in his last 11. With 14 goals in 27 games this season, he is on pace to register 43, which would eclipse his single-season high of 37 in 2011-12.
Kessel was asked about the success the Maple Leafs enjoyed early this season when they truthfully were not playing very well.
"When you're winning, you're winning, right?" he said. "It's a results-based business and you want to win, so you're always positive when you are winning games. Obviously [in the] last month it has been a little tougher. We didn't win as many games as we'd like and we didn't play as well as we'd like, but it's a long season. There are ups and downs and we have to stay positive."
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