The Toronto Maple Leafs are so desperate to win a shootout that coach Ron Wilson changed goalies after overtime in his team’s last game.
The Boston Bruins haven’t resorted to such a measure yet, but their penalty shot problems are just as glaring.
The Northeast Division rivals, both of whom have dropped three shootouts in their last four games, will each hope to secure two points in regulation on Thursday when they open their season series at Boston’s TD Banknorth Garden.
The Maple Leafs (1-2-3) have lost five straight games overall since winning their opener over defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit, and the skid has been especially frustrating for Wilson given Toronto’s struggles in the shootouts.
Wilson, an Ontario native in his first season in Toronto, tried a different strategy during Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to Anaheim. After goalie Vesa Toskala stopped 19 shots in regulation and overtime, Wilson inserted veteran Curtis Joseph for the shootout based on his stronger track record facing penalty shots.
Joseph has allowed goals on just 28 percent of penalty shots, but he went 0-for-2 Tuesday. Leafs opponents are 6-for-7 on shootout attempts this season.
“As a team we just have to find a way to get those points because they’re going to be huge (at the) end of the season,” Toskala said. “Today we were trying this—it didn’t work.”
Toskala may be back between the pipes in a bid to get his 100th career victory. He is 4-4 with one tie and a 3.08 goals-against average lifetime versus the Bruins and went 3-4-0 last season.
Nothing has worked for Boston, either, but the Bruins’ problem has been more at the offensive end. The Bruins (2-1-3) are just 2-for-13 on shootout attempts in their three defeats this season, which include a 2-1 loss to Pittsburgh in their home opener Monday and a 3-2 loss at Buffalo on Tuesday.
“You almost feel like ‘Groundhog Day’ here,” Boston coach Claude Julien said. “We came up short again in the shootout. But we are that close, and if we can get over that hump it will make a big difference.”
The Bruins’ offensive frustration hasn’t been limited to the shootouts in their last two losses. After scoring 15 goals in their first four games, they’ve managed just three on 68 shots in their last two contests. Two have come from 21-yea-old Phil Kessel, who ranks among the league leaders with six tallies this season.
“It is frustrating, but at the same time, we’ve got to keep staying with it. … We had chances, we just need to finish,” said Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron, who has five assists but is still looking for his first goal since Oct. 13, 2007. He missed most of last season with a severe concussion.
Toronto’s offense has also scuffled, scoring just three goals in the team’s last three games and 11 overall—tied for the fewest in the NHL. The Leafs are trying to move on without Mats Sundin, who scored 420 goals in 13 seasons with the team but is currently a free agent.
They’ll likely be facing Boston goalie Tim Thomas as they try to snap out of their funk. Boston has alternated Thomas with Manny Fernandez through six games, which would seem to put Thomas on track to start. The veteran is 9-3-2 with a 2.95 goals-against average in his career against Toronto.
The Bruins went 5-1-2 against the Leafs last season, but Thomas was yanked from their lone regulation loss after allowing five goals in 32 minutes of an 8-2 home loss on March 6. Toronto also won the lone shootout in last season’s series, a 3-2 decision at TD Banknorth Garden on Jan. 17.