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Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask makes a save in front of Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Dion Phaneuf while Bruins defenceman Dougie Hamilton defends during the third period at TD Banknorth Garden (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask makes a save in front of Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Dion Phaneuf while Bruins defenceman Dougie Hamilton defends during the third period at TD Banknorth Garden

(Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

Mirtle: Maple Leafs finding goals hard to come by Add to ...

When you have a lineup with this many terrific offensive players, you don’t expect goal production to be a problem.

But even with Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri, Joffrey Lupul, Mason Raymond, David Clarkson et al playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs for most of the last 11 games, scoring has been a real problem.

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The Leafs started very strong in this department, picking up from last season when they had 3.02 goals per game to finish sixth in the league. They produced more than two goals in all but one of their first seven games, with a ridiculously hot power play (nine for 27, or 33 per cent) helping them to a 3.71 goals per game start.

With good goaltending behind that, Toronto unsurprisingly went 6-1.

The last 11 games, however, putting the puck in the net has been a struggle, and the Leafs are 5-5-1.

This hasn’t been just the injuries up front. That cast of top six forwards mentioned above has all played in eight or more of those games each, but as a team, the Leafs have scored only 20 times in those 11 games (not including the two empty netters).

That’s dropped their goal production about 8 per cent from last year, to 2.78 goals per game, tied for 11th in the league.

That doesn’t sound particularly alarming, but what’s troubling for Toronto is they’re bleeding all of those goals at even strength.

Here’s a chart that compares where the Leafs got their scoring a year ago compared to this season:

 

 

EVPG

PPPG

SHPG

ENPG

Total

This season

1.667

0.778

0.167

0.167

2.778

Last season

2.250

0.646

0.021

0.104

3.021

      

Change

-25.9%

20.4%

700.0%

60.0%

-8.0%

 

As you can see, the Leafs overall scoring numbers have gotten a noticeable boost from shorthanded and empty net goals, two unlikely sources to build on over 82 games.

Their power play improvement here, meanwhile, is probably real – they’ve been generating more chances with the man advantage – but that even strength number is a big time red flag.

If we throw out the shorties and empty netters in both years, Toronto’s offence is down 16 per cent from a year ago, when Lupul missed most of the season with a broken arm, and before Raymond and Clarkson were added to the mix.

Part of the problem is those top seven Leafs forwards (including the now injured Dave Bolland) scored all but two of the team’s 20 goals in the last 11 games, meaning they’re getting almost zip in terms of production from anyone else in the lineup.

Two games against the Buffalo Sabres this weekend should help ease the drought, but the conversation about the Leafs offence is likely always going to come back to their problems on the breakout and in maintaining possession.

It’s hard to score three goals a game consistently when you’re spending so much time in your own end.

Toronto’s goaltending has been some of the best in the league so far and that alone will win you a lot of games. But the Leafs record is showing signs of sagging here, and if there’s any drop-off in net, these trends at even strength are going to really start hurting more.

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

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