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Bozak benched as Leafs' offence struggles

Toronto Maple Leafs rookie team forward Tyler Bozak slams Ottawa Senators defender Geoff Kinrade in to the boards during first period NHL rookie tournament action in Kitchener, Ont., on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2009.

David Bebee/The Canadian Press

Like many of his teammates, Leafs centre Tyler Bozak was a no-show in his team's 2-1 loss to the Rangers on Thursday night.

After the game, he was a no-show as well.

Benched by coach Ron Wilson for all but 2:09 of the third period, Bozak wasn't made available to the media to talk about his struggles, leaving a few of his teammates like Kris Versteeg to fill in the blanks. The team's first-line centre out of training camp has no goals, three assists and five shots on goal in the first six games this season.

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"I didn't think he was playing well, so I made some changes," Wilson said of Bozak after the game. "Steeger can play centre and it shook some things up ... You don't stand and wait for something to happen - it's my job to try and make something happen.

"I won't hesitate [to bench top players] I mean a lot of our top players just did not play very well tonight, played on the outside and so lesson learned. It's a good lesson for our team that talking about it is one thing, actually getting involved in the game's another."

Part of the issue may be that Bozak is dealing with some substantial hearing loss after taking a puck to the side of the head in practice last weekend, but even so, his lack of output this season is troubling for a team that finished tied for 25th in scoring a year ago. Toronto won its first four games behind plenty of goals from Phil Kessel and Clarke MacArthur, but the offence has sputtered in two consecutive games as the opposition's top checkers are finding ways to limit the Leafs' top two lines.

"We didn't want to get our nose dirty by going into the hard areas, coming across to support the puck," Wilson said. "I mean, we got what we deserved. Simple."

One area where the Rangers were particularly successful was in blocking shots, as they outpaced Toronto 30-12 in that department as they filled the lanes in front of netminder Martin Biron. Wilson said New York succeeded in "muddying up" the game after getting out to a 2-0 lead late in the first period and a large part of the credit for that falls to their top two defence pairings.

Marc Staal and Michal Rozsival drew the assignment of shutting down Phil Kessel and Co. and succeeded, while Dan Girardi and Michael Del Zotto had nearly half of those blocked shots between them while taking almost every single shift against Toronto's second line led by Mikhail Grabovski.

Staal still doesn't yet get a lot of attention leaguewide, but he's perhaps the most effective defensive defenceman in the league - and that showed tonight.

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Wilson didn't single out Staal, but there was a theme to his criticism of his team.

"The last game [a 2-1 loss to the Islanders on Monday] we didn't score a 5-on-5 goal for almost the same reason," Wilson said. "We weren't willing to go to the front of the net.

"We never went to the front of the net and won a battle. You're not going to score when the other team's going to pack five guys around their goaltender. And that's what it was tonight.

"To become a good team, you've got to know, do I have my A game? Okay tonight I don't. A good team realizes it early and goes to plan B. Which is okay, crash the net, we got to get a couple ugly goals. And we didn't do that."

Wilson said part of the issue was that other coaches have been scouting Toronto's early success and preparing ways to beat them. And without many established scorers beyond Kessel, there really aren't that many top guns to shut down.

"Other teams, they've been watching us, we've been playing well," Wilson said. "They're going to be prepared coming in. We're not surprising anybody. They're going to try and take away our speed. The Rangers did a good job of that."

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And it won't get any easier with Chris Pronger and the Flyers on Saturday night in Philadelphia.

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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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