Toronto Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson is back to his regular old ornery self. And looking at his roster these days, it’s hard to blame him.
The Leafs lost another two regulars on Thursday in Nashville, pushing the number of injured to seven heading into Saturday’s meeting with the Washington Capitals.
Making matters worse, Toronto had been slumping even before losing five players in its last two games – three of whom will miss at least the next six games.
The Leafs are now faced with having to pull out of a 1-4-1 slide with a lineup filled with holes, the most glaring of which are in goal and at centre.
As a result, the team will have quite a few bodies from the Toronto Marlies trying to shut down Alex Ovechkin and friends.
“We are kind of decimated at the moment by injuries,” Wilson said Friday at practice, where only five players took to the ice. “We’ve just got to find a way to battle through it.”
The tough spot the Leafs are in is reminiscent of last season when injuries to Dion Phaneuf, Jean-Sébastien Giguère and Colby Armstrong in November contributed to an ugly 4-12-4 stretch that essentially ended their playoff bid by early December.
Despite a dramatic run late in the year, Toronto had dug too deep a hole and eventually missed the playoffs by eight points – many of which were given up in November.
Then, as with now, goal scoring was a huge part of the problem.
Over that 20-game slide last season, the Leafs scored only 35 goals. They were also 3-7-3 in November, a month in which three forwards (Nikolai Kulemin, Kris Versteeg and Mikhail Grabovski) scored nearly 70 per cent of their goals.
Compare that with their last six games, a stretch during which Toronto has scored only eight goals – none of which have come from a forward on the second, third or fourth line.
Injuries have played a role, but that lack of secondary scoring was a trend that had been developing all season.
“From our standpoint, we need to play desperate hockey,” said centre David Steckel, who is pointless in his last 11 games. “Guys are going to have to step up. It doesn’t matter what your role has been, it’s probably going to change here in the next couple of games.”
If there’s good news for the Leafs this weekend, it’s that their two opponents are both having struggles of their own.
Washington comes into Saturday’s game with only one win in its last six games and an offence that is suddenly – and surprisingly – sputtering.
Things are even worse for the Carolina Hurricanes, whom Toronto will face in Raleigh, N.C., only 19 hours after their home game against the Caps ends. With his team in the Eastern Conference basement, the job of ’Canes head coach Paul Maurice could even be on the line against his former team.
It’ll be a crazy weekend overall, especially for whoever the Leafs decide to call up given the Marlies played Friday night on the road.
Wilson realizes he needs to get his team back picking up points in order to avoid the prolonged slide that killed them a year ago.
“We still have a top line,” he said. “And maybe some other guys, with Timmy Connolly in there, I think we can get a second line that’s scoring. … We’re going to have to get shots, traffic and finish our chances.”
In order of significance
1. James Reimer (concussion-like symptoms) – Was back on the ice for the first time in weeks on Friday, but even the best-case scenario likely means he’s another two weeks away.
2. Mikhail Grabovski (leg) – Out for what Ron Wilson deemed to be “at least” two weeks after leaving Tuesday’s game in the third period.
3. Clarke MacArthur (upper body) – Remains day-to-day and is expected to miss both weekend games. May be able to play Tuesday in Tampa.
4. Mike Komisarek (wrist) – Took a puck off the arm in Nashville and may have a broken bone. Will miss a minimum of three weeks.
5. Colby Armstrong (ankle sprain) – Has missed all but five games and still isn’t expected back for another month.
6. Matt Lombardi (arm/shoulder) – Hurt taking a faceoff in Nashville and will also miss a minimum of three weeks.
7. Mike Brown (undisclosed) – Was injured Thursday before the game but is only day-to-day. Could play this weekend.