Coming off two disappointing and emotional losses in which they coughed up leads late in the third period before surrendering the shootout, the Toronto Maple Leafs headed for the sunshine state to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The game marks the first in two nights for the Maple Leafs as they look to propel themselves back into the win column. After starting the season with a bounce and registering a 4-0 record for the first time since 1993-1994, the team has struggled to manufacture offense and their position within the Eastern Conference standings is beginning to reflect their short comings.
Arriving home from a ten day road trip and a two game losing streak, the Tampa Bay Lightning came out striking and proved they came to play killing an early 5 on 3 power play. Short two skaters for 48 seconds, the Lightning smothered the Leafs power play for 0 shots. The penalty kill injected life onto the Tampa bench as their pace picked up quickly, leading to a power play of their own with Steven Stamkos lighting the lamp on a perfect one time shot.
Adding to a busy first period for Maple Leaf goaltender J.S. Gigeure, Nate Thompson found the puck on a bouncy play and put it passed the sprawling Gigeure only 29 seconds after the Stamkos power play goal. The early two goal lead seemed to deflate an already fragile Maple Leafs squad, and with less than 1 minute to play former Leaf Dominic Moore tallied his 5th of the year, all but sealing the victory for the Lightning.
The Maple Leafs showed flashes of response in the second period but were blanked by Lightning goaltender Dan Ellis who was up for the task, stopping all 28 shots and registering his second shutout of the season. As he continues to lead the league in scoring, Steven Stamkos finished off the 4-0 victory with his 13th goal of the year.
During the Leafs early season success, special teams improvement was evident, although the power play never could find it’s stride and is sputtering out of gas. 0 for 5 on the night, the extra skater has not been much of an advantage for the Leafs as they have managed to score only twice in their last 24 opportunities. After the game Head Coach Ron Wilson spoke of his team’s chance to grab an early lead with the 5 on 3.
“This league is about scoring first, so we passed up a great opportunity. You’ve got to find a way to get our power play going because if you don’t score – like a 5-on-3 – it’s depressing not to score or even get a scoring chance.”
Amidst the Leafs 6 game losing streak are two key injuries in winger Colby Armstrong and Captain Dion Phaneuf. The energy provided from Phaneuf either on the Leafs bench or within the locker room is a missing component to this team right now and the efforts needed to battle their way out of the slump are not apparent.
“You’ve got to play 60 minutes in this game and I think it was obvious that we weren’t ready to start,” said Toronto goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who made 21 saves. “In the situation we’re in, you need to see some desperation out of the guys, some competitiveness, and we’re not seeing that.”
Starting the season 4-0 the competitiveness was glaring and evident in General Manager Brian Burke’s top six bottom six philosophy. As the losses began to pile up and the chemistry within the lineup evaporated, Ron Wilson was forced to juggle his lines and look for a spark. The inability to establish a net presence became a disturbing trend and Wilson experimented with rookie Luca Caputi on the top line with Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak.
Unable to create the offense necessary, Caputi finds himself on the 4th line, and beyond the 2nd unit of Clarke MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovski, and Nikolai Kulemin, Wilson cannot find a scoring touch from any of his lines, leaving the Head Coach without answers and forcing him to defend his job security on a daily basis.
As Brian Burke continues to state his position within the salary cap and his budget room in order to repair his club’s offensive woes, the amount of teams willing to make changes this early are very minimal if any at all. Without any legitimate options, Burke and Wilson alike will need to explore the option of inserting Nazem Kadri into the struggling lineup. Although not one to react out of desperation, the continuous drop within the Eastern Conference standings will force Burke to rethink his current stance. Kadri alone will not solve the troubled Leafs scoring issues, but the message sent to underachieving players could prove a necessary and timely wake up call.
As Kadri continues his development on the Marlies longest road trip this season stretching across the United States, the Leafs will look to the same lineup to claw out of the six game slide as they head to Sunrise Florida to take on the Panthers Wednesday. If unable to pull out at least one victory from their Florida road trip, the heat will follow the struggling Leafs to Toronto, as things won’t get any easier hosting the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday.
If their fortunes are to be reversed, anything short of a desperate and agressive effort in maintaining a consistent offensive output will falter this Leaf team to a position far too familiar to that of the 29th place finish last season. Carrying the weight of the hockey universe, and his first round pick of the 2011 Draft in the hands of rival GM Peter Chiarelli, Burke cannot afford to remain idle for long.
About the Author
Written by RJ Emptage
Operations Manager of a retail chain in Southern Ontario (Sports Obsession). Specialize in licensed sports apparel and novelties (Visit sportsobsession.ca). Being from the Hamilton area I grew up and into a die-hard Toronto Maple Leaf Fan, and look forward to a bright blue and white future...(I know that sounds crazy doesn't it?) Love all things sports and the next best thing to playing them, is talking them!