The futility of the Toronto Maple Leafs offence, which is plodding along at a pace of 2.44 goals per game heading into Tuesday night's game against the Washington Capitals, cannot all be laid on the shoulders of the goal-less winger Phil Kessel.
The Leaf defence has to take a large share of the blame as well. The unit has produced a grand total of 15 points in nine games, with a mere two goals. Six of the Leafs' eight defencemen have yet to score a goal, and one of the only two to do so, Carl Gunnarsson, remains out of the lineup with a hip injury. Another one who was expected to do most of the scoring from the back end, Jake Gardiner, has only played two games this season due to a concussion and is getting back in shape in the American Hockey League.
Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle said after his team's optional game-day skate at the Verizon Centre (just about every player was on the ice) there are a few things the defence can do to break the slump.
"The first thing is we've got to find a way to join the rush a little bit more," Carlyle said. "We asked our players, particularly the defencemen, to always make the first couple of strides when the puck is exiting your zone and then make a read on whether you should join the rush or not.
"The second thing obviously is to get pucks through from the point. It's not always the hardest shots that go in the net. You have to direct pucks toward the net and you've got to get more pucks through."
Carlyle said by his estimate "27 per cent" of the shots directed toward the net (the Leafs had 42 on the net) during a 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes Monday night were blocked. "That's too many," he said. "We've got to do a better job of getting pucks through to that area."
The Leafs defencemen also need to start hitting the net more instead of their own players and other innocent bystanders. Dion Phaneuf is the chief culprit here as he possesses a howitzer of a shot but doesn't appear to have any idea where it will go once it's launched.
A wayward shot from Phaneuf already cost the Leafs the services of winger Joffrey Lupul. He is out for at least another four weeks after a Phaneuf blast broke his forearm. The Leafs' leading scorer, centre Nazem Kadri, was fortunate to escape a serious injury when Phaneuf hit him on the hand Monday night. Kadri did not take part in Tuesday's skate but is expected to play against the Capitals.
Referee Marc Joanette was not so lucky. He was hit on the mouth by a wayward Phaneuf missile and lost some teeth and needed stitches to repair the damage. But he is just as tough as any player, as Tuesday's game sheet shows Joanette listed as one of the referees for the Caps-Leafs game.
The Leaf forwards also need to help the defence, according to Carlyle: "With our forwards, we're asking them to take the goaltender's eyes away and that enhances the opportunity to score from the blueline."
One change is expected on the Leafs' defence Tuesday night. Korbinian Holzer, who was called up from the Leafs' farm team for Monday's loss, will probably sit with Mike Komisarek taking his place. Ben Scrivens is expected to get the start in goal to give James Reimer a rest after five consecutive starts.
The Leafs' forward lines:
James van Riemsdyk-Tyler Bozak-Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur-Mikhail Grabovski-Nikolai Kulemin
Leo Komarov-Nazem Kadri-Matt Frattin
Frazer McLaren-Jay McClement-Colton Orr