Getting down early is becoming part of the routine for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the results haven’t exactly been pretty.
The Leafs allowed two quick goals by Ville Leino and Chris Pronger midway through the first period on Thursday night as part of a dismal 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Toronto lost for the seventh time in their last 10 games and again heard plenty of boos from the few fans remaining at the Air Canada Centre by the end of the third period.
The Leafs have now been outscored 30-15 in first periods alone this season, tying the Edmonton Oilers as the league’s worst team after 20 minutes.
Unlike a night earlier in a 5-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Leafs’ shot totals were respectable throughout the game, with sniper Phil Kessel leading the way with seven and defenceman François Beauchemin hitting the post on a wide open opportunity shortly after Toronto went down 2-0.
On the whole, however, they had few great chances on Flyers backup Brian Boucher, who won for only the fourth time this season.
Flyers centre Danny Briere, meanwhile, continued his strong play this season with two goals five minutes apart in the second period -- his team-leading 15th and 16th of the season.
Mikhail Grabovski had the lone tally for Toronto.
The really bad news if you’re a fan of the Leafs? With general manager Brian Burke’s 18-day Christmas trade freeze in effect as of midnight Thursday, this is the team they will have to live with for at least the next six games.
The Leafs’ struggles on the power play were a big part of the problem on the night, as the Flyers took four consecutive minor penalties early on, but Toronto managed only two shots on goal in the eight minutes of man advantage time.
The Leafs fell to 4 for 40 on the power play in their last 10 games, a 10-per-cent conversion rate that has dropped them into the league’s bottom 10 on the year.
Kessel’s slump deepens
Toronto’s meagre offensive output continued a long-standing trend, one that has seen Kessel fall into one of the deepest offensive slumps in the past few seasons.
Kessel, who scored 30 goals in 70 games in his first season with the Leafs last year, has only one goal in his last 10 games and three in his past 20 after opening the year with seven goals in the first eight games. He is on pace for only 47 points, which would be his lowest output since his sophomore season with the Boston Bruins.
Making matters worse, Kessel is also now minus-10 on the season, including minus-6 in his last six games.
Captain came back
The game marked the return of Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf after 15 games out of the lineup with a deep skate cut to his left leg, and he picked up an assist on Grabovski’s second period goal but wasn’t able to re-energize his team’s power play.
Phaneuf was also the goat on the Flyers’ fourth goal when he pinched for a big hit on goon Jody Shelley in the offensive zone, allowing the Flyers a 2-on-1 break the other way. Briere capitalized on the play, tapping Andrej Meszaros’s pass between Jean-Sébastien Giguère’s pads.
Phaneuf played more than 24 minutes in all, second on the Leafs in ice time on the night, and had five shots on goal. Toronto’s record dropped to 5-6-1 with its captain in the lineup.
Too many (defence)men
Phaneuf’s return created a potential eight-man logjam on the Leafs blueline, one solved on Thursday when Mike Komisarek sat out with what the team termed only “an upper-body injury.”
It was the first game Komisarek has missed this season despite the fact he has struggled mightily much of the year, falling behind rookie Keith Aulie on the depth chart.
Komisarek had only 10 minutes ice time in each of his last three games and was a combined minus-4 in his last two games.
Once he returns to health, the Leafs will have a tough call to make on whether or not Aulie should return to the minors.