TORONTO — Forward Michael Grabner is eager to find his scoring touch with the Maple Leafs, but he isn't going to stray from the role he's been given.
Grabner, who was acquired from the Islanders in September, has yet to find the back of the net in 20 games this season with Toronto and has been held pointless in his past 16 outings. His numbers are far off the career-high 34 goals he scored in 2010-11 with New York.
"I would take anything right about now," said Grabner. "It gets frustrating, but you can't get away from the game because once you start thinking about it maybe other parts of your game will fall apart."
Grabner's opportunities to score with Toronto have been minimal, despite having the ability to do so, and the Leafs have had difficulty as a group scoring goals — sitting 25th in the league with just 2.23 per outing. He has had just 40 seconds of power-play time all season and is averaging only 11:54 of time on ice, the least amount of his seven-year career.
Heading into the season, the 28-year-old Austrian was averaging 2.48 shots on net per game. This year, however, it's down to 1.02 with just 36 total shot attempts.
"Some games you get more chances to shoot, I think I've had a few that missed the net, i just need one good bounce, don't miss the net," said Grabner.
Despite his struggles to produce offence, Grabner is still contributing in other ways, which has kept him in the good book with his coach.
He's a big part of Toronto's penalty kill, with nearly four minutes of his ice time per game coming while playing a man down, and Mike Babcock is comfortable using him in shut-down situations when matching up against team's top lines.
"He's been real good on the (penalty kill), good on the match-up role," said Babcock.
"We'd like to see him get some confidence and his scoring touch back he used to have, it appears to me he's getting comfortable and getting better all the time, but he's really good on our PK and that's been a big part of our success as of late. He's done a real nice job for us."
The former first-round pick of the Vancouver Canucks says he's doing what Babcock has asked of him and that it's gone a long way to keep him in the lineup.
"He wants me to be strong on my stick, get in on the forecheck, use my speed to create turnovers and obviously on the penalty kill — be strong there."
Grabner, six-foot-one 187 pounds, has 95 goals in 337 career games and 11 have come while playing shorthanded.
Since his career-best season in 2010-11, though, production has dropped every year from 20 to 16 to 12 and finally just eight in his final year with New York.
Grabner had to make a quick transition after being acquired right before training camp for a handful of prospects. It has taken him time to adjust and learn Babcock's ways to play the game.
He believes that his play has picked up recently and that it's just a matter of time before he starts contributing in the offensive zone.
"(The transition's) been good, obviously everything besides scoring," said Grabner. "It's been a learning progress, all the new faces and systems, but it's been showing the last few games that we've worked hard and hopefully I can get my first goal and go from there."
Kyle Cicerella, The Canadian Press