Maple Leafs learning from the shot-less period

Chris Kunitz celebrates a goal in front of Jonathan Bernier on Wednesday at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. (Photo: Joe Sargent/ Getty)

As embarrassing as it may seem that the Leafs went over 25 minutes without a shot on goal this past Wednesday, it was likely the wakeup call they needed in order to really address the shot-differential problem the team has had all season long.

Back in October, Cody Franson told reporters, “We know we have to improve in that department,” in reference to the amount of shots the team was giving up. But the team was winning thanks in large part to exceptional goaltending and effective special teams.

In November, not much has changed for the team with the exception of two things: the goaltending has been good but not as great, and the special teams have also suffered, primarily the penalty-kill, which has dipped below 80 percent for the first time all season long. Both things have contributed to the Leafs’ two-game skid and the debacle against the Penguins, in which they were outshot 48–24.

The Leafs haven’t had a whole period without a shot since April of 2000 against the Sabres. Head coach Randy Carlyle couldn’t recall the last time he was part of a period where his team had zero shots.

“If we had one, we forgot it petty quickly,” Carlyle said.

The game in Pittsburgh has to mean something for the Leafs. The last time they carried a 4–1 lead in Pittsburgh was Jan. 31, 2012, when they ultimately fell 5–4 in a shootout. The following month would end in disaster for Toronto with a 4-9-1 record that ultimately led to then-coach Ron Wilson’s dismissal.

Emptying the notebook

—James van Riemsdyk continues to enjoy a lot of success against the Penguins. Having seen a lot of them as a divisional rival when he was a member of the Flyers, he has scored 15 points against Pittsburgh—more than any other team he has taken on.

—With 17 points in 22 games, Nazem Kadri has been somewhat consistent when it comes to production. His two-way game continues to struggle as his back-checking has tailed off quite a bit.

—Following the Leafs 6–0 loss to Columbus, Phil Kessel stayed out on the ice a lot longer after practice than usual. It’s a common sight to see Kessel leave first and while that seems like an easy thing to criticize, let’s get one thing straight. He is the team’s leading scorer with 22 points in 25 games. He’s also the team’s leading ironman, having not missed a game since he was first acquired from Boston. When you have those things going for you, you’re allowed to be one of the first ones off after practice as far as I’m concerned.

—When Joffrey Lupul gets hurt, the only thing he hates more than the injury itself is the question from people like me about whether he’s injury prone. He may have had a bit of a defence last season when he broke his forearm by way of a Dion Phaneuf slapshot. But his latest groin injury looked like an innocent battle along the boards. While he’s out for at least two weeks, we know that the diagnosis is very optimistic. It’s likely he is out for much longer. He hasn’t addressed his injury yet, but when he does you can bet that he will not like being told he is injury prone.

—Mason Raymond is tied for third in Leafs scoring. He makes $1 million a year and was a tryout player desperate to find work. Think about that for a minute or two.

—Phaneuf has been fantastic for the Leafs this year. His biggest improvement has been his ability to neutralize the top scorers from the opposition. In addition to handling that assignment admirably, he has managed to be smarter with puck while making fewer mistakes.

—The Leafs really miss Dave Bolland. Through their November struggles, the Leafs’ PK has dipped without him. “Everything you need to know about Dave Bolland comes from how he approaches a practice,” Randy Carlyle said a little over a week prior to his ankle injury. It’s hard to imagine the Leafs struggling the way they have been with him playing right now.

—Morgan Rielly is no longer the Leafs’ seventh defenceman, having been selected to play over players like Paul Ranger and more recently Jake Gardiner. It’s looking like Gardiner’s future with the Toronto Maple Leafs won’t be a long one. His name is coming up often in trade talk and it only seems like a matter of time before something happens.

—Jerred Smithson has taken 158 NHL faceoffs as of this writing and has won nearly 60 percent of them. If you are wondering why he is regularly in the lineup over some of the other guys on the team, that stat is the primary reason. In a lot of ways, he is David Steckel 2.0.

—Cody Franson and Mark Fraser have finally been reunited as a defensive pairing. When playing together in the past, they were arguably the Leafs most consistent tandem, but this season they had been split up until now. Hopefully the pairing will stay together for some time and be able to deliver the physical element along with the scoring ability that these guys can provide.

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