NHL: Are Toronto Maple Leafs' Playoff Hopes Already in Trouble?

Bleacher ReportAnalyst IOctober 31, 2010

TORONTO - OCTOBER 26: Dion Phaneuf #3 and Phil Kessel #81 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate win against the Florida Panthers during game action at the Air Canada Centre October 26, 2010 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
Abelimages/Getty Images

Saturday night's game against the New York Rangers was nothing so much as a microcosm of the Toronto Maple Leafs' season thus far.

As a team, the Maple Leafs fired 36 shots on Rangers' goalie Henrik Lundqvist, but they still failed to score. Some people would be quick to point out that Lundqvist is a very talented goalie and would even say that he is one of the best goalies in the entire NHL, or that the Rangers blocked 35 attempted shots by the Maple Leafs.

Sure, the Rangers are a good team and Lundqvist is part of the top echelon of goaltenders, but neither can be used as an excuse by Maple Leafs players, coaches or fans.

During the first four games of the 2010-11 season, the Maple Leafs scored 16 goals. During that four game stretch, they didn't lose a single game, defeating the Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers. Only one of those teams, Ottawa, sat outside of the playoff picture as of October 31.

What makes the Maple Leafs' offensive struggles even more surprising is the fact that they have out-shot their opponents in more than 50 percent of their games.

In the six games following the Maple Leafs' surprising 4-0-0 start, they have scored just nine goals and been shutout twice.

Clarke MacArthur and Phil Kessel have scored a combined 35 goals, six and seven respectively. Those 13 goals combine for 52 percent of the goals the Maple Leafs have scored as a team.

That is one of the primary reasons for the Maple Leafs' recent struggles, as they seem to be having trouble when it comes to spreading the goals across the lineup.

That begs the question: are the Maple Leafs' playoff hopes already in trouble?

Some would say that the Maple Leafs never had a chance at the playoffs in the first place, and that no one should be surprised that the team is struggling to score.

However, with the additions of Kris Versteeg, a two-time 20+ goal scorer, and Colby Armstrong, a three-time 15+ goal scorer, the potential for a much better season offensively was (and still is) there.

Among Maple Leafs players struggling to score goals this season are Versteeg and Armstrong, who is expected to be out 4-6 weeks.

Versteeg has recorded just one goal and one assist in nine games this season. Armstrong, meanwhile, has played in eight games, scoring just one goal.

And let's not forget about Tyler Bozak.

The 24-year-old sophomore had 27 points, including eight goals, in 37 games with the Leafs last season. This season, Bozak, playing alongside Phil Kessel, has scored just one goal and has three assists and a plus/minus rating of minus-4 in 10 games.

Versteeg, Armstrong, and Bozak are all still expected to contribute and need to begin producing as soon as possible.

The Maple Leafs cannot begin to make excuses just because they are no longer undefeated. They need to overcome their struggles and begin scoring again, which will lead to more victories.

Are the Maple Leafs' playoff hopes in trouble now that they are struggling to score? Leave your take by commenting below.

**Follow Lukas on Twitter @SportsHazeLukas for breaking hockey news and rumors, as well as Toronto Maple Leafs game updates. You can contact him at lukas@gacksports.com.

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