Defensive Duds: Maple Leafs Blue Liners Deserve Some Blame For Offensive Woes
Care to guess at the only NHL team not to have at least one defenseman with more than one goal this season?
Here's a hint: the name of their storied franchise comes from the objects off the same trees as maple syrup. And their fans throw other objects on the ice that you usually lather in maple syrup.
That's right, your Toronto Maple Leafs. The only team in the NHL not to have a defender with more than one goal.
The Leafs have used nine different defenseman this season for at least two games, and not one of them has managed to muster up more than one goal. It's no wonder they're ranked 28th in the league in Goals For with just 73-that's 43 goals less than the league-leading Colorado Avalanche.
There is no denying that the offense of the Leafs needs to be better this season, but to put all the blame on them after looking at the numbers would not be entirely fair. Plain and simple, the Leafs blue line has been utterly useless in the opponent's zone this season.
Tomas Kaberle, Luke Schenn, Dion Phaneuf, Francois Beauchemin, Mike Komisarek, and Carl Gunnarsson all have one goal each. That's it.
That's what you get for a $24 million defense. Six goals in 33 games.
There are 11 blue liners in the NHL who have six goals or more this season on their own. That's right, guys like Brett Clark (Tampa Bay), Joe Corvo (Carolina), and Marc Staal (New York Rangers) have the same as or more goals than the entire Leafs blue line. Marc Stall had 13 career goals coming into this season.
Even 40-year-old Nicklas Lidstrom has more goals than the Leafs crew, and he's talking retirement soon. And if you double the measly number the Leafs have accumulated this year, you get Dustin Byfuglien's goal total so far.
That's right, double.
The Atlanta Thrashers have 23 goals from their defense. That's one goal away from being quadruple the Leafs' total.
Needless to say, there's not much firepower coming from the 'improved' squad this season, so when blaming Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke Macarthur, Nikolai Kulemin, or Kris Versteeg (who are all on pace for career years offensively), just remember that the boys backing them up haven't even come close to doing their part.
It would be one thing if the Leafs defense was doing an exceptional job at keeping the puck out of the net, but they're ranked 25th in Goals Against per Game (3.03). Improved, sure, but not enough for it to outweigh their problems at the other end.
One of the biggest reasons for the lack of scoring on defense is their problem hitting the net. The puck either sails wide or slams directly into the player blocking. I would bet a large sum of money that no team gets more shots blocked than the Leafs. And no team misses the net more.
Captian Phaneuf might be the worst at hitting the net, and we're not talking the worst on the team. We're talking the worst in the NHL.
His wind up would make you think the shot is about to go through the goalie, but by the time he lets it rip and the puck is cascading off the boards and out of the zone, we realize he's got a better chance at hitting the jackpot (oh wait, his contract suggests he did).
I believe referees have quickly left the ice while Phanuef is mid-wind-up, for they fear for their lives no matter where they're standing.
Kaberle shoots more than he used to, but that's not saying much. Beauchemin and Brett Lebda are too busy getting caught out of position to worry about firing the puck, and Komisarek never actually had to touch the puck before coming to Toronto, so this whole stick-handling thing is new to him.
And if you recall where the blue liners scored their goals from, it's a testament to just how bad they are at shooting from the point. Schenn, you'll recall, scored from the hash-marks off a face-off win. Kaberle's one tally was from the circle. Gunnarsson was standing in the crease for his.
So the remaining three goals have been from the point. Three goals from the point. There are 6-year-old house league teams that have better success than that, and they can't even raise the puck yet.
This is an issue, friends, a serious issue.
It's a huge reason why the Leafs power play is clicking at just 16.9 percent. Teams know they have a better chance at getting struck by lightning during a game than having a defenseman scoring-let alone hitting the net. Take away the shooters around the net, and you've shut down the Leafs PP.
Not sure what goes on at Leaf practices everyday, but it's about time they started working on shooting from the point. A lot.
To blame the entire scoring problem on the defense would be juvenile, of course, but to have the distinction of being the only team in the NHL that has not one multi-goal scorer on defense is a hint that it's not all the fault of the players up front.
If the Leafs are to improve this season it is crucial that the defense starts to chip offensively, if for no other reason than to kick-start the forwards.
A team must be able to score from the blue line to succeed.
That's why they call it the point.
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