Seven games into Dion Phaneuf's tenure as team captain, Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson is already on the defensive over his $6.5-million (U.S.) defenceman's play.
And Wilson is pointing his finger at the media as one of the reasons Phaneuf has made several miscues recently.
"He's just got to stop listening to some of this, to me, drivel about he's not putting points on the board," Wilson told reporters after practice Monday. "What's important to us is winning the hockey game and contributing that way.
"Not scoring points - that's irrelevant when you're a defenceman. You've got to help stop the other team from scoring."
Offensively, Phaneuf's stat line as a Leaf is fairly modest. Since being traded to Toronto last January, he has played 33 games and has two goals and 11 assists while logging the most ice time on the team.
Defensively, meanwhile, is where Phaneuf's biggest struggles have come the past few games. After an ugly outing in a 5-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday, he is minus-6 in his past four outings, prompting familiar questions about his decision-making in his own zone.
Phaneuf has never exactly been considered a stalwart in that department. Two years ago, he was on the ice for more 5-on-5 goals against than any other player in the NHL (81), finishing that season with a minus-11 rating on a Calgary Flames team that made the postseason with 98 points.
The reason he gained such a high profile - and large contract - was his ability to produce offence, something he did with impressive regularity in his first four NHL seasons. Phaneuf had 206 points in his first 323 games to start his career - including more goals (65) than any other blueliner in that span.
Since then, he has struggled on the power play, as his point totals on the man-advantage fell from more than 30 in each of his first three seasons to just 16 last year.
Wilson was coaching the Flames' Western Conference rival San Jose Sharks when Phaneuf entered the league and said he isn't surprised that teams adjusted quickly after he scored 39 power play goals - 11 more than the next best defenceman in that span - in his first three years in the NHL.
"What happens with a lot [of players]is no one knew how dangerous he was on the power play, so he got off a lot of shots," Wilson said. "Now people stand in front of him and take the big one-timer away."
Wilson added that Phaneuf has been too worried about regaining his scoring touch and that's why his defensive game has suffered this season.
"He's trying to score," Wilson said. "He shouldn't be worried about that. Those things will come to you. This is just about defending and playing better in our end.
"He's resting a little bit and trying to go on the attack 'cause that's all he hears [from the media] He doesn't score. And that's not what he hears from us. We want him to just play solid defence and the offence will be there."
Phaneuf said Monday he is encouraged he's generating a lot of shots this season - 3.4 a game, higher than his career average of 3.1. He believes the goals will come.
As for his defensive game, he agreed there's room for improvement.
"You don't want to do too much," Phaneuf said. "I think we've all been guilty of it and myself, too. We've tried to do too much and that's not the type of team that we have. We're a simple team that works hard every night and that's how we get results.
"We've got to get back on track. So we come here [for practice] the sun came up today, and it's a new day."Report Typo/Error