So the Toronto Maple Leafs slump deepens.
Even if, this time, they nearly pulled out a dramatic late-game comeback to end their skid.
The Leafs lost for the fourth time in a row on home ice on Tuesday, downed 3-2 in a shootout by the Phoenix Coyotes despite getting two quick goals early in the third period.
Problem was the Leafs had spotted the ultra-defensive Coyotes a two-goal lead just five minutes into the game, something they had vowed not to do earlier in the day and which set them back right away.
At least one of the early goals came with a little bit of an odour for netminder Ben Scrivens, but the Leafs rookie went on to redeem himself from then on. Scrivens seemed to gain confidence throughout his fifth career start, stopping everything the rest of the way until he was beaten twice in the shootout to miss out on the second point.
“We managed to hang in there,” coach Ron Wilson said. “I was happy for Scrivs that he buckled down. He didn’t cave and he came up with a lot of saves as the game went on.
“Our confidence grew in him as the game went on. And that freed us up to really go on the attack ... We had a ton of opportunities to win the game. Unfortunately we didn’t."
"He made some huge saves there," defenceman Mike Komisarek said. "Gave us a chance to win."
That didn't happen, but the Leafs did manage to make it far closer than it looked like it would be early on.
Phoenix’s opening goal came as a direct result of captain Dion Phaneuf bobbling the puck on the offensive blueline, a play that quickly became a 2-on-1 that Coyotes captain Shane Doan finished off with a shot Scrivens let slip through.
Mere minutes later, a defenceman floated a long shot from the point with traffic in front, a goal that drew boos from an Air Canada Centre crowd that hasn't seen the home side win since Oct. 29.
After being stymied in the second period, Toronto finally started its rally in the third, with Komisarek pinching in and scoring his first of the season early on to end the red-hot Mike Smith’s shutout bid.
Phil Kessel lit the lamp on the power play shortly thereafter with his league-leading 13th to tie the game and force the extra session.
Kessel was stopped in the shootout, however, and Phoenix made good on both attempts, allowing them to improve to 7-1-2 in their last 10 games. Toronto, meanwhile, is 3-4-1 in its past eight since starting the season 7-2-1.
Even with the loss, the Leafs' comeback was remarkable given the Coyotes came into the game 7-0-3 when scoring first and a perfect 8-0 when leading after two periods.
"We didn't quit," Phaneuf said. "We really showed a lot of resiliency to come back and get that point. They're a team that doesn't give up a lot."
Leafs GM Brian Burke shot down talk of acquiring free agent netminder Marty Turco, whose agent has been in contact with several teams, including Toronto.
When asked prior to Tuesday’s game, Burke said only that there was “no interest” in adding the 36-year-old veteran despite rumours to the contrary.
“Even if that [rumour]is true, that doesn’t change my approach in any way,” Scrivens said of talk the Leafs needed a seasoned goaltender. “I try to play my game. I’m getting an opportunity and that’s all I can do.”
On this night, anyway, he looked just fine for much of the game. The Leafs' biggest question mark will be what to do when he needs a break, as Jonas Gustavsson has struggled mightily going back to last season.
Goals are gone
As welcome as Komisarek’s tally was given Toronto’s lack of secondary scoring, it didn’t help the Leafs growing problem of not getting any goals from its forwards not named Phil or Joffrey.
After all, while Kessel and Joffrey Lupul are off to terrific starts, no other Leafs forward is on pace to crack even 50 points, a continuation of a trend last season that saw their scoring depth drop off dramatically beyond their top four scorers.
While the Mikhail Grabovski-led second line is cold, some players on the third and fourth lines are positively arctic, including rookie Matt Frattin, who continues to get chances but has no goals and one assist in 15 games.
That could be a major problem if Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur, who both left Tuesday's game with undisclosed injuries in the third period, miss a significant amount of time.
On the good news side of things, injured centre Tim Connolly will be back in the lineup on Thursday in Nashville.
It was only eight games ago that Leafs coach Ron Wilson offered, without prompting, this description of his captain following an impressive 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“Personally, I think by a country mile he's the best defenceman in the league,” Wilson said. “It's not even close right now. His numbers show that: his plus-minus, we chart scoring chances and his numbers are off the chart there. I think he’s comfortable in his own skin, he’s comfortable being the captain and he’s healthy.”
At the time, Phaneuf was among the scoring leaders on defence with 11 points in his first 10 games. Ever since Wilson’s bold pronouncement, however, the captain has looked downright uncomfortable and has no goals, one assist and a minus-4 rating in eight games.
One Leafs defenceman trending the other way, however, is Luke Schenn, who logged more than 20 minutes for only the second time this season, including several shifts in overtime.
"He was playing well so we had to keep going with him," Wilson said. "I thought there were some other guys who struggled in the first half of the game so it allowed us to keep Luke playing and playing a lot and hopefully build his confidence. He's getting better every game."
Wilson also picked out centre Tyler Bozak as having played well.