It’s Dan Mount again and I’m here with the Tuesday NHL headlines.  Today we look at the struggles of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the injuries surrounding the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks. We’re close to the end of the regular season and both storied franchises are facing challenges. The champs are facing health issues, while the Leafs are fighting for their playoff lives.

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Falling Leafs

At the beginning of the season, the Toronto Maple Leafs were rolling along. The Buds had things going their way and looking to make some noise in the Eastern Conference playoff race. However, things have changed drastically for the Leafs as they’ve lost eight in a row heading into Tuesday night’s game against Calgary.

There has been a lot of blame to go around from James Reimer, (ask his wife about that one) to captain and defenseman Dion Phaneuf, to coach Randy Carlyle (who former boxing champion and Leafs fan Riddick Bowe wants to knock out after a loss to Philadelphia.) Even double-shifted offensive star Phil Kessel is not immune to being criticized (although he’s accounted for one-third of the offense for Toronto.)

So what’s wrong in Toronto? How did they go from a playoff threat to a bubble team? Toronto is two points back in the wild card standings as of Tuesday night.

One of the main culprits has been Reimer, as he’s been disastrous in relief of Jonathan Bernier. (Bernier did return in a loss to St. Louis and dropped a game against the Flyers.) However, Reimer shouldn’t take all of the heat as his agent Ray Petkau pointed out the defense didn’t exactly do the embattled netminder any favors. Bernier is clearly the number one, but Reimer isn’t exactly awful. Plus, Randy Carlyle’s system allows for more shots and it was only a matter of time before the goalies were going to lose the form that got Toronto into any position to contend.

There are other things to blame for the collapse. The Leafs power play couldn’t help make up for the bad play of the even strength unit. The Buds power play only worked at a 14-percent efficiency rating in March, which is down almost eight points from the rest of the season. Toronto has lived dangerously by trying to outscore its opponents, but it is defense that rules this time of the year.

Another problem is that Carlyle has a short bench and doesn’t really use his fourth line. The fourth line of Colton Orr, Frazer McLaren and others only gets over five minutes a game, but they are more than capable of getting about 10 minutes of time. Five minutes may not seem like a lot for a single game, but those minutes add up over the course of the season.

After the last loss to Detroit, Toronto has only a less than seven-percent chance to make the postseason. The main question will be do Carlyle, General Manager Dave Nonis and people like Phaneuf get a chance to right the wrong or is there going to be a massive overhaul. I’m leading towards Carlyle and possibly Nonis getting the axe in the offseason. The Leafs haven’t won the Cup since 1967, and the fans and the media are clamoring for a title.

Blackhawks Down?

The Chicago Blackhawks were my favorite to win the Stanley Cup at the beginning of the season. However, the champs have taken a few hits over the last few weeks. The St. Louis Blues loaded up and took first in Central Division thanks to getting Ryan Miller at the trade deadline.

The main problem has been the injuries that Chicago has taken in the last couple of weeks. It started when Patrick Kane suffered a leg injury against St. Louis on March 20. The Hawks are missing Kane on the power play.

However, it went from bad to worse as Blackhawks’ captain Jonathan Toews was injured after absorbing a hard hit from Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik. Toews is day-to-day according to Coach Joel Quenville. (Toews was holding his left arm when he was taken off the ice.)

Some are wondering if Chicago’s chance to repeat is going up in smoke. The Blackhawks need to fix some things if they want to contend. Their normally solid defense has been shaky as of late, plus Corey Crawford has not been as good as he was during last year’s Stanley Cup run. The Hawks are going to need players like Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa to step up the offensive production before Toews and Kane get healthy.

It’s that time of the week where look at the spectacular, the stupid and the silly with First star, Worst star and Who blew up the Death Star?

First star

Jonathan Quick makes what could be the save of the year against the Winnipeg Jets with this move called the scorpion kick.

 

Worst star

James Neal of the Penguins cross-checks the head of Detroit’s Luke Glendening.

Who blew up the Death Star?

Dear Jeopardy contest,

Magic Johnson didn’t play in the NHL. Hand in your man card.

Sincerely,

Men of North America

That’s it for this week. Take care, and I’ll see you later in the week.

Dan Mount is an NHL columnist for TJRSports.com. He is based out of Watertown, NY.