by John McCauley
January 17, 2004
(TORONTO) -- Everybody knows that the Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils and Ottawa Senators are among the elite in the Eastern Conference and the entire NHL for that matter. Now the Leafs definitely know.
All three have thoroughly dominated the Leafs over the past nine days. During four difficult losses, the most recent being Saturday night's 4-0 thrashing by the Flyers to go winless in their home-and-home series, Toronto has been outscored 16-2.
In Toronto every game is a big game, but when there's a rare home-and-home series attention is magnified. It's that much more intensified when the team is the Flyers. Following the Leafs 4-1 loss in Philly on Friday there was plenty of talk about how a different squad would arrive at ACC for Saturday's tilt.
|Players like Darcy Tucker have to fill the scoring void. |
(Graig Abel Photography)
That certainly wasn't the case. The Leafs played a solid first period, but after tough guy Todd Fedoruk opened the scoring it was like the Leafs decided there was no point in trying, a loss was inevitable.
"Well we've had three not strong games against Philly. We've had three games where we gave up three goals in a span of four minutes. That's what's disconcerting," head coach Pat Quinn said thinking back to include the Leafs 7-1 loss to the Flyers on Nov. 1. "They got four goals within eight feet of our net last night and you start to wonder if anybody cares about that area."
When you lose games by big scores like the Leafs had, a lot attention is focused on the offence. Really though, it's the defence that has let Toronto down. To create offence against tight checking teams you have to take care of your own zone and force turnovers.
"If you keep trying to hit a home run you're not going to do it against these teams," Quinn said before explaining that the Leafs haven't been doing the little things necessary to score.
Mats Sundin or Gary Roberts haven't registered a point in any of the Philly losses, Darcy Tucker's production has fallen off the radar and those are the guys that have to carry the load when injuries are keeping stars like Alex Mogilny and Owen Nolan on the shelf. Injuries can never be used as an excuse though.
"We've had good success with our fill-ins," Quinn said. "Just awhile ago we were saying how good our fill-ins were doing. You can't flip it now."
Do these losses mean any more than the victories the Leafs have earned over Western powerhouse clubs like the Vancouver Canucks and the Detroit Red Wings during the team's 16-game point streak before Christmas? Normally in the regular season the answer would be no, but considering the domination in which the Leafs have lost it has to be a concern for Quinn.
"You have to realize there's going to be periods of adversity and play yourself back out of it. We have to work on that bond of trust that has got away from us for the last little while," Quinn said.
WEIRD, WILD AND WACKY
Making his Leaf debut was Craig Johnson, but he almost missed his first shift. Linemates Clark Wilm and Nathan Perrott thought they were going to be down a man until Johnson hopped the boards just in time to lineup for the puck drop. Lets chalk that one up to nerves
Jeremy Roenick decided he wanted to drill Mats Sundin while the captain was trying a wraparound, but instead smoked defenceman Eric Desjardins, who was forced to leave the game with a broken arm.
There were no fights in the first period, but you could tell these two teams don't like each other. There was a scrum after at least every other whistle. There were also more than a few big hits. Bryan McCabe had the double-cheek firing on all sides early on.
Carlo Colaiacovo was called up before the game and took the pre-game warmup, but was scratched. Pierre Hedin made his third straight start for the Buds. Colaiacovo is going to get a chance to play and it sounds like Pierre Hedin is as well. Their playing time could come at the expense of Ric Jackman and Karel Pilar.