Poor defense and suspect goaltending have been problems all season for the Toronto Maple Leafs. A lack of offense lately has only added to their woes.
The struggling Maple Leafs look to end a three-game skid Tuesday night when they face the rival Montreal Canadiens at Air Canda Centre.
Toronto (8-11-5) was able to overcome its defensive shortcomings early this season with an offense that ranked among the league’s best. Unable to get reliable goaltending from either Vesa Toskala or Andrew Raycroft, strong starts from captain Mats Sundin, Nik Antropov and Jason Blake helped the Maple Leafs to a 5-4-3 record.
Neither Raycroft nor Toskala has played well enough to seize control of the starting job, and now Toronto is having trouble putting the puck in the net, scoring three or fewer goals in 12 consecutive games.
The Maple Leafs gave up four first-period goals - two in an 18-second span - Saturday in a 5-1 loss at Phoenix.
Kyle Wellwood scored the lone goal for Toronto, 1-4-2 in its last seven games.
“Right now, this team is in a funk, and good teams found ways to get out of situations like this,” Sundin said. “Teams find out what it takes to win, and that’s what faces us. No, we have not hit rock bottom, and have 60 games left to turn this thing around.”
Raycroft started Saturday and was pulled after allowing two goals on seven shots. Toskala stopped 27 of 30 shots the rest of the way.
“I didn’t like that first goal and made the change,” Leafs coach Paul Maurice said. “But that was not the story. We didn’t move our feet, and that’s a big part of the game.”
The Maple Leafs, who haven’t lost four straight in regulation since a five-game skid from Feb. 10-March 4, 2006, haven’t gotten much production lately from their top players.
Blake—a 40-goal scorer in 2006-07—has only two this season and none in his last 16 games. Antropov has one goal in his last 12 games after scoring eight in his first 12.
A disappointment so far in his first season with Toronto, Toskala has been good in two starts this season against Montreal, allowing five total goals in a pair of wins.
Montreal (12-8-3) was outscored 7-2 in losing both ends of a home-and-home series to Buffalo over the weekend.
The Canadiens were shut out for the first time this season, 3-0 by Jocelyn Thibault on Saturday.
“We were just turning the puck over way too much and not getting the puck deep,” left wing Chris Higgins said. “They’re good on the transition, they feed on our turnovers and we made a lot of them tonight and made them look pretty good.”
Cristobal Huet played well in Saturday’s loss, stopping 32 of 34 shots. He has, however, struggled against Toronto, going 0-3-1 with a 4.23 goals-against average in his last four starts.
Montreal, which has lost five of its last eight games, has consecutive regulation losses for the first time this season.
Captain Saku Koivu has been limited to one goal in his last 11 games, but Higgins has picked up the slack by scoring three times in his past four contests.
Toronto is 2-0-1 this season against Montreal, and has at least one point in five straight meetings (3-0-2).