MONTREAL – The question was posed to Jonathan Bernier, perhaps the busiest netminder in the National Hockey League this season and a man who has witnessed the strength of terrific defensive hockey in Los Angeles firsthand en route to a Cup in 2012: Can his Toronto Maple Leafs, currently the top wild card in the East, threaten a deep playoff run without raising their substandard level of defensive play? "Goalies got to be good," Bernier said with an almost uncomfortable laugh. "I personally dont think so," he continued frankly. "Because some games [the goalie] wont get those bounces and [the puck is] going to go in somehow. But we know weve got it in this room. Weve just got to pay the price to play better defensively and, if we do, Im pretty sure we can be one of the top teams in this league." Its an uncomfortable truth for a team that wrung up 11 wins in 14 games before the Olympic break and has designs on making noise in the playoffs after a long-awaited return last spring. This is a hockey club that struggles badly to defend and relies most nights on terrific goaltending and an incredibly potent offence to win. Its a formula that might yield success in the regular season, and it has for the Leafs thus far, but is unlikely to gain much steam when the hockey tightens in mid-April. Head coach Randy Carlyle has been beating the drum loudly on the topic all season, but doesnt have much to show for it. His group remains a work in progress. "Weve been trying and stressing that defensive hockey is whats going to give your team the best chance to qualify for the playoffs," said Carlyle after an instructive practice in Brossard, Quebec. "[But] were in the qualification mode. Were not in the playoff mode [yet]." Only five teams have been worse than the Leafs defensively this season and only one of those teams, the Ottawa Senators, has any hope of qualifying for the playoffs. Toronto has allowed a bloated three goals per game despite boasting some of the finest goaltending in the league with the 25-year-old Bernier. No team, in fact, puts more pressure on their goaltender to be great than do the Leafs. Only Mike Smith in Phoenix has faced more shots than Bernier thus far and hes started 10 more games than the native of Laval. "I think weve seen it," said Bernier of sturdy defensive play. "I think everyones seen it, but I dont think weve seen it consistently enough." Hurting the effort is a bad penalty kill, one thats allowed the most goals (tied) in the league this season, an unstable defence which includes young and growing parts like Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner and a high-end forward group that has shown only spotty attention to defence. A pile of goals and timely goaltending have been required most nights to win. That was true during an 11-2-1 run before the 18-day Olympic stoppage. Running, then, behind the all-world efforts of Phil Kessel, who has been the hottest player on the planet in 2014, the club scored 51 goals – 3.64 per game – but also allowed 41 on the other end. Theyve won despite being outshot in 36 of 48 games – they have a record of 21-10-5 in those games – and despite the fact that theyve allowed a league-high of more than 36 shots per game. Cody Franson, second on the back-end in minutes, believes the instability is tied to confusion in the defensive end, too much thinking rather quick instinctual reaction. "I think were still a little indecisive on things sometimes," he said. "We try and play a quite aggressive style of defence and sometimes when you think too much you end up being a half second slow compared to where you should be. That comfort level just isnt quite there with us yet. I think we still think about things too much." They allowed five in their most recent affair against the Islanders on Thursday night, an overtime loss to a struggling club that was without its best player and leading scorer, John Tavares, and their third leading point-getter in Frans Nielsen. Two of the goals came by way of short circuiting on the power-play with Michael Grabner scoring twice shorthanded in a span of 48 seconds on the same power-play. Another found the back of the net via the aforementioned penalty kill with two more coming on defensive breakdowns, including the overtime winner. "Gifts," said Carlyle after the 5-4 defeat. "Ive got no other word to describe the goals that we gave up." A drastic reversal at this late stage in the year seems unlikely, though Carlyle and the coaching staff continue to push and prod. They did so with any available ice during the Olympic break and continued at practice Friday, narrowing their sights on a tighter neutral zone and improved forecheck – efforts aimed at spending less time in the defensive zone. But with just 21 games to play, including a division clash with the Canadiens on Saturday, its probably safe to say that this is what these Maple Leafs are. The question now is whether they can, as currently constructed, make a little noise in the postseason (assuming they get in) or whether their defensive liabilities will prove too onerous to overcome. Last spring, they nearly toppled a Bruins giant, but required some lightning in a bottle and forgotten brilliance from James Reimer in Games 5 and 6. History points emphatically in the direction of those that can defend. In fact, the last three Stanley Cup winners finished the regular season as either the best or second-best team defensively. And though the Leafs are not yet in the Cup conversation, that remains the goal somewhere down the road. Dave Nonis and the Toronto management team have to be mindful of that fact as it relates to the larger construction of the roster, both now with the Mar. 5 trade deadline looming and over the longer term with the core thats being put into place. Are these the foundations of a club that can eventually win the ultimate prize? "You always see it every year, strong defensive teams win," said Jay McClement. "I think we have the make-up for it. But not without being strong defensively. Obviously, youre not going to win a lot of games 5-4 in the playoffs. We have the goaltending for it and have had it all year. Weve just got to cut down on these mistakes and well be fine. "Were not changing the way we do it, weve just got to do it better." Ben Banogu Youth Jersey . I kept my eyes focused up on the camera during each approach. 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Bobby Okereke Colts Jersey . - The Detroit Lions have placed tight end Brandon Pettigrew on injured reserve, ending his season.Jan Kirchhoff, Fernando Forestieri, JJ Hooper and Danny Hylton have been named the PFA Fans Players of the Month for April. Sunderland boosted their survival hopes in April, earning six points from their five matches, and Kirchhoff was a key part of Sam Allardyces side.The 25-year-old, who moved to the Stadium of Light in January from Bayern Munich, played 420 minutes out of a possible 450 in the holding midfield role as Sunderland kept three clean sheets. Pick your team Aguero? Ozil? De Bruyne? Pick your Fantasy Six-a-Side team for the chance to win ￡10,000 Kirchhoff has helped relegation-threatened Sunderland to six points in April Kirchhoff saw off competition from Newcastle winger Andros Townsend and Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge to win the award.In the Championship, Sheffield Wednesday forward Forestieri has won the award for the third time this season.The 26-year-old scored two goals and created an assist in April as Carlos Carvalhals side secured the final play-off spot in the Championship. Fernando Forestieri has won the PFA Fans Player of the Month award for the third time Forestieri saw off competition from Leeds United striker Chris Wood and Rotherham defender Greg Halford.Port Vales Hooper topped the poll for the League One award ahead of last months winner Will Grigg and Millwall forward Steve Morison. Watch JJ Hooper score for Port Vale in their 4-1 thrashing of Rochdale in League One last month The 22-year-old forward scored three goals as Port Vale collected nine points from a possible 15 in April.dddddddddddd.Finally, the League Two award went to Oxford United striker Hylton, who claimed more votes than Bristol Rovers striker Matt Taylor and Accrington Stanleys Tariqe Fosu.Every month throughout the English football season, fans will have the opportunity to vote on skysports.com for who they think has been the best player in the Premier League, Sky Bet Championship and Leagues One and Two after Sky Sports teamed up with the PFA to be the digital platform for the Awards. Oxford United striker Danny Hylton picked up the League Two award Before the vote opens each month, an expert panel produce a shortlist of contenders. Fans are then able to vote for the player they think deserves the award.The panel includes Sky Sports football pundits Paul Merson, Ian Holloway and Peter Beagrie.That trio are then joined by Mike Riley, general manager of Professional Game Match Officials, and Malcolm Clarke, chairman of the Football Supporters Federation, as well as the winning fan from each month.The winning fans who will take their places on next months shortlisting panel and make the awards to players will be announced in due course.PFA Fans Player of the Month awards for MarchPremier League: Jan Kirchhoff (Sunderland)Championship: Fernando Forestieri (Sheffield Wednesday)League One: JJ Hooper (Port Vale)League Two: Danny Hylton (Oxford United) Also See: Past results Meet the panel PFA Fans PotM news Live on Sky ' ' '