It was only about a week ago when fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs were coming down harder than they ever have on team captain Dion Phaneuf.
He was not getting back in good defensive position like he used to, was not putting up the kind of offensive numbers he did while playing in Calgary and was not as physical as he had been in recent years. This lead some people to question his leadership abilities, and wonder if he should be the captain of a Maple Leafs team that has not made the playoffs for what feels like centuries.
However, Phaneuf feels like he is getting back to the way he used to play over the first few years of his career.
“I definitely feel better out on the ice,” Phaneuf told reporters after practice on Friday. “I feel that I’m moving back to the way I used to.”
The Edmonton, Alberta native is a former 20 goal scorer and a two-time 17 goal scorer. In 26 games with the Leafs last season, Phaneuf scored two goals and added ten assists.
This season has been nothing similar. In 49 games, Phaneuf has four goals and 16 assists to go along with a minus-5 rating.
Many fans and members of the media thought he may have lost confidence in his game while playing on a struggling Maple Leafs team.
“It wasn’t my confidence, I wasn’t worried. I was getting shots on net, I was getting pucks through,” said Phaneuf.
The 25-year-old defenceman scored just one goal through his first 36 games of the season, but has recently exploded for three goals and eight points in his last 13 games. He was even the driving force behind Mikhail Grabovski’s overtime game winning goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night.
Despite his recent offensive outburst, Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson says that Phaneuf hasn’t been asked or told to focus on contributing in the offensive zone.
“He’s a defenceman and we want him to defend first and be a part of the offence second,” said Wilson.
Phaneuf continues to enjoy his recent success, but also recognizes his role on the team and that he must keep contributing if the team wants to make the playoffs.
“It’s great to be contributing, but the biggest thing is that we’re winning,” said Phaneuf. “We’re in a race here where you’ve got to take care of your own business.”
Wilson doesn’t want to take anything away from the rest of the team, however.
The Leafs have a record of 10-2-4 since the beginning of February. Career minor leaguers, rookies and even the Leafs’ youngest players have been a huge part of it. Every player on the Leafs’ roster has contributed so well in fact, that the Leafs sit just four points out of the playoffs with 17 games to play.
“It’s just perseverance, learning how to play and attention to detail that seems to be clicking in, especially with such a young group.”
Follow me on Twitter @LukasHardonk for more Maple Leafs coverage, including news, rumours, updates and opinion.