Toronto Maple Leafs Search for Answers Defensively

Phil Kessel Dion Phaneuf Toronto Maple Leafs (Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)

Dion Phaneuf is playing some of his best hockey as a Leaf, but his team isn’t following (Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)

It hadn’t happened in 13 long years

For the first time since the year 2000, the Toronto Maple Leafs failed to get a single shot on goal in the third period. Not one. Out-shot 17-0 by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Maple Leafs followed that up with another goose egg in overtime before losing in a shootout

“Nights like last night bring you to earth in a hurry,” said coach Randy Carlyle the morning after his team blew a 4-1 lead and were held without a shot for the last 25 minutes of the game.

“I don’t sleep well. I get stress headaches,” added the coach when asked if he is concerned about the way his team is playing.

The Leafs are last in the NHL giving up 36.1 shots a game. They are 28th in the league in terms of shots taken on goal at 26.1.

“Statistically points wise, body of work, body of play I don’t think we are satisfied,” said Carlyle. “We’ve been pleading about our shot totals and directing pucks to the net and simplifying.”

“It eventually catches up to you if you get out-shot like that,” warned David Clarkson.  “We are in the midst of figuring it out and like everybody in life, you go through learning things and as a team we’re continually getting better.”

“If I had the answer to that we wouldn’t be talking about it,” said Carlyle. “I don’t know who has the answer to that.”

But the Leafs are determined to find that answer. They’ve been out-shot in all but three games this season, and with three losses in four games, they know they need to be better if they want to remain in a playoff position.

“It’s not something we are happy about,” said defenceman Carl Gunnarsson. “You can’t just go out and worry about it too much. Obviously you have to work on it. There’s no reason to get that spinning in your head all day.”

“We believe this team can have success because we have talent,” said Carlyle. “We can play to a higher level and that’s what we are going to force ourselves into.”

The penalty kill, once a key to the early season success, has plummeted from an impressive second in the league to 20th and that superb has been below-average lately.

“Obviously we’ve given up 11 goals in two games — that’s not going to cut it,” Carlyle said. “That’s not going to work in the NHL. We know that. We’ve got to continue to work on that. Stapling people and separating people from the puck.”

That’s got to become more prevalent in the defensive zone for a Leafs team that has a daunting schedule in front of them as they head into a stretch of games that invludes Sharks, Stars, Senators, Bruins, Kings, Blues, Blackhawks and Penguins.

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Tony Ambrogio
Tony is a regular contributor to Sportsnet. He has been covering sports for more than 20 years and has a passion for junior hockey and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Tony Ambrogio

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