TORONTO - No team in the NHL relies more on a core group to produce offence than do the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Seven players have combined for 84 per cent of the team's 74 goals this season, the highest such percentage for any team's top seven scorers in the league. Alarmingly among that group in Toronto are two centres, Dave Bolland and Tyler Bozak, who have each missed a month's worth of games due to injury already this season and yet remain amongst the team's scoring leaders.
The Leafs have dropped a season-high five consecutive games, also losing six of the past seven while skidding through an unhappy November that saw them win just twice in regulation. Prominent in their struggles was a failure to produce offence at even-strength; they've scored just 18 such goals in the past 14 games, delivering two goals or fewer overall in 11 of those games.
Depth or a lack thereof has been the issue, both from the defence and depth forwards.
The Toronto blue-line has barely made a blip in the cause offensively, totaling a scant three goals all season, two from Dion Phaneuf and one into an empty-net. By comparison, the San Jose Sharks, who beat the Leafs at the ACC on Tuesday, have 16 goals from their defenders this season. Four Sharks alone have more goals individually than do the Leaf defence as a unit.
"When you describe our hockey club it's always the back-end," said Randy Carlyle following practice on Wednesday morning. "Does the back-end need to provide more offence? For sure it does. We need more from our back-end."
Unlike last season, the team has also gotten little in the way of contributions from its depth forwards. David Clarkson and Nik Kulemin have a mere two goals apiece while Jay McClement, averaging nearly 17 minutes, has yet to score and has just two assists. A fourth line with plenty of punch has been predictably punch-less offensively, the likes of Colton Orr, Frazer McLaren, Troy Bodie, Carter Ashton, and the since waived Jerred Smithson, all with zero goals this season.
Phil Kessel (15 goals), James van Riemsdyk (12), and Mason Raymond (10), a late free agent add who sits third on the team in scoring, have been responsible for the bulk of offence, helped by Nazem Kadri (7) Joffrey Lupul (8), and the aforementioned Bolland (6) and Bozak (4).
Injuries and suspensions to core players, such as Clarkson, Bolland, Bozak and Lupul, certainly haven't helped with their replacements unable to fill the void. One rare exception is Trevor Smith, who since being recalled to line up in an offensive role, has produced six points in eight games.
"We need more from secondary scoring," Carlyle said. "Secondary scoring comes from your second, third and fourth line. We've noted that. We've asked that."
Among the desired changes to the offence would be more shots to the net and more efficient movement of the puck up the ice, thus instigating what's been an inconsistent forecheck. Spending vast amounts of time defending, while struggling to break out of their own end, the Leafs have been unable to establish that forecheck, the lifeblood in some ways of the team's attack.
"The one thing we've got to do is we've got to get stronger on our forecheck," said Carlyle, pointing to brief periods of such success against the Sharks, notably during an energetic start to the season period.
Generating much of their offence from a potent power-play this season, if not the flash and dash of their skill players on the rush, the Leafs have yet to produce much off their forecheck, thereby unable to sustain time in the offensive zone in the manner Carlyle would like.
"We have to start being more fluent as a group of five," said Cody Franson, who leads the defence with 13 points, but has yet to score this season. "There's a couple things that we're doing systematically that are inhibiting our chances to one, generate things off cycles, and two, generate shots from the point. Just a couple small, little technicalities that are hurting us rather than helping us. Once we can get fluent with correcting those I think that'll help out a lot."
|Team||Percentage of offence from top-7 scorers (Entering Wednesday's action)|
|New York Islanders||66%|
|New York Rangers||66%|