Nazem Kadri (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat / Getty Images)
The Leafs have been a flawed team for a long time, but one thing they usually have is offense. After a nightmare road trip that saw them shutout three times, where do they go from here?
Forget the process, the promise of progress and the pleas for patience. How many more games will it take for Toronto Maple Leafs management to realize their squad is broken?
The offensively powerful Maple Leafs have wilted since Peter Horachek took over as coach, averaging just 1.33 goals per game in a season during which they've been much closer to scoring three a night.
They were shut out for the third time in four games on Saturday in a 3-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues. James van Riemsdyk led the team with a minus-3, while linemates Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak were each minus-2. Morgan Rielly was the only defender who didn't get tagged with a minus.
The streaky Leafs are streaking in the wrong direction, repeating their annual tradition of driving the 18-wheeler off a cliff to ruin all hope of a playoff berth.
Saturday was the end of a nightmare road trip that saw the Leafs score just one goal in games against the Blues, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks. Their lone goal came against the Sharks, by the way, who are the weakest of the four killer Western Conference teams.
But quality of competition is an excuse, not a reason for the Leafs' failures.
The truth is they’ve been losing to everybody, from the lowly Carolina Hurricanes to the mighty Chicago Blackhawks, to teams who are fighting them for positioning like Florida and Washington.
The Leafs have now lost four straight, 12 of their last 15 and five of six games under new coach Peter Horachek.
Much has been made about the Leafs reducing the number of shots against per game, but they bounced back to their season average on Saturday in surrendering 33 to the Blues. And it doesn't matter how many shots they prevent if they can't put one past the opposing netminder.
They’re not getting better. They’re getting worse.
It’s a sign that the Leafs just don’t have the psychological fortitude to pull themselves out of these slumps. They can ride the roller coaster to the top of the hill, but all they do is throw their arms up and let it go crashing down on the other side each time.
And rumours of a Ryan O'Reilly trade won't do anything to fix the Leafs this season. The guy's a 23-year-old two-way forward with leadership ability, but he can't be expected to fix this deeply flawed team on his own.
Horachek must be feeling the awful temptation to let go of his defensive demands with the hope that his players will score their way back to mediocrity again. Doing so could cost him control of the locker room, and put him in the same position as predecessor Randy Carlyle: shouting orders at the classroom while the kids continue to blow spit balls at each other.
Horachek loses either way, and in the long term, so does the franchise.
Something's got to give here, and it won't be the coach again.
The Leafs' colossal skid started with a loss to Carolina last December, and they'll get a chance at redemption against the Canes when they return to Toronto for a game on Monday.
Maybe they'll find redemption. Or maybe they'll see how far down this abyss goes.