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Siegel: Young Leafs trudging through cold spells offensively

Jonas Siegel
1/6/2014 12:25:53 PM
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TORONTO – Amongst the data gathered by the Maple Leafs coaching staff and available to the team at large after every game is the total number of scoring chances created by each individual player (not to mention those generated by the opposition).

And so despite the fact that James van Riemsdyk has scored just once in the past 10 games and has just three goals since the start of December, the 24-year-old believes he is generating opportunities that, for the time being, are going unrewarded.

"I'm creating a lot of chances," said van Riemsdyk, following a grueling Sunday practice which followed an ugly 7-1 showing at the ACC a night earlier. "As long as that's there I know I'm going in the right direction. I know that it's going to go in eventually."
 
van Riemsdyk has blossomed into a bona-fide force during his brief tenure in Toronto. In 89 games with the club, he's scored 33 goals, totaled 62 points and was named to the U.S. Olympic team for the first time following Wednesday's Winter Classic in Ann Arbour.

He remains on pace this season for career-highs in goals, assists, points, ice-time and just about every other offensive category.

But after a torrid start – 12 goals in the first 25 games – he, like a number of Leafs, has cooled off into something of a slumber offensively. van Riemsdyk managed his 15th of the year against the Red Wings during the snowy New Year's Day bash. The goal snapped an eight-game drought and was just his third since the outset of December.

"It's a long season," he said. "You go through ebbs and flows; you've just got to stick with it."

Luck has not been on his side amid the cool spell. A career 11 per cent shooter, van Riemsdyk has been successful on just 5 per cent of his 59 attempts during the 16-game struggle. A flurry of chances opposite Cam Talbot in the opening moments of Saturday's embarrassing showing against the Rangers ultimately went unfulfilled – as they have been in the past month.

A confident personality, his swagger doesn't appear rattled.

"Obviously it's a game of bounces," said van Riemsdyk, who remains second on the team in scoring with 30 points in 41 games. "It's weird how sometimes you can get a lot of grade-A chances and the goalie makes big saves and you can't buy one. And then you maybe throw one at the net from a crazy angle and it hits off something and goes in. You've just got to stick with, stay positive and go from there."

That advice could well be served for 23-year-old Nazem Kadri. Kadri is lumbering through one of the driest spells of his short NHL career. He has just one point in the past nine games and only four points in the past 14 outings.

His growing pains have been notable after a quick start of 13 points in 14 games.

"He seems to be in a little bit of a funk," said Randy Carlyle, observing that Kadri had been standing still too often in recent weeks and not moving his feet. "Our advice to him is commit to the time off the ice and when you're on the ice you work extremely hard and then you do extra and that's what he's doing right now."
 
Kadri has seen some of his luck flounder this season - he posted an impressive 44 points in 48 games last year while owning the highest on-ice shooting percentage of any player in the league - while facing a nightly barrage of increased competition.
 
A year ago, he lined up in the Leafs no. 3 centre hole, but with the offseason departure of Mikhail Grabovski and long-term injury to Dave Bolland, has been forced to rise up the depth chart, squaring off with a new level of talent every night. He even saw 12 games on the top line with Tyler Bozak sidelined by an oblique injury.
 
Paired almost exclusively with Phil Kessel since he was traded to the Leafs, van Riemsdyk endured a similar challenge when he landed in Toronto.
 
"Obviously being on [Kessel's] line you see a lot of that [increased competition] and it's a great challenge," said van Riemsdyk.
 
"[But] it's definitely a little bit different. When I was in Philadelphia I was definitely in more of a secondary role where you're expecting to play against probably their third [defence] pairing and not obviously their top checking line; you get a little bit more room out there."
 
Carlyle pulled Kadri aside for a brief word at the end of Sunday's practice, preaching persistence and hard work.
 
"When things aren't going well for yourself you have to be selfish and take a look in the mirror and say 'Hey I've got to work myself out' and the old adage was you put your nose to the grindstone and work your way through it," said Carlyle of Kadri, who wasn't available for interview on Sunday. "And I don't think that is too far from the way young players today should approach it."
 
"You've just got to stick with it I think," added van Riemsdyk, trying to break free from a slump himself. "You can't beat yourself up too much. It's a game of confidence and you've got to try to keep that confidence high throughout the whole year, get to work, and improve upon the things you can improve upon."

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