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Commitment to defence unwavering

by David Alter / Toronto Maple Leafs

It was another game where the Maple Leafs had difficulty scoring.

They’ve committed to playing a better defensive game, but the results aren’t coming, leaving many seeking some sort of solution.

“It’s been like this for a couple of years, I have no idea,” said Phil Kessel. “It’s frustrating.”

The Maple Leafs outshot the Hurricanes 35-32. They also had the upper hand in shot attempts (62-46). Those stats are typical indicators measured for sustainable success, but luck hasn’t been on their side.

Early in Monday’s loss, the Maple Leafs generated a solid scoring opportunity, when Nazem Kadri pushed forward with a puck in his legs in the low post. When times were good, those probably go in, but times have been bad and the term “puck luck” has been thrown around to describe the offensive woes.

So, is it time to throw out the commitment to defence? Is it time to see the Leafs grab wins by any means necessary? And, of course, by "any means necessary" we’re talking about the wide open game where the Leafs are heavily outshot and outchanced, only to be bailed out by exceptional goaltending and timely scoring.

The coach doesn’t think so.

“I don’t think any of the good teams play that way,” said Peter Horachek. “If you want to start something, if you want to get a mindset, if you want start playing a certain way, you have to play hard defence and attack the net on the other end. When you play defence, (it) doesn’t mean you don’t play offence. The offence is right there, nothing changes with the offence.”

The Leafs' lone tally came with just over five minutes to go in the third period. It was the Leafs’ second goal in the span of five games. And, while times are tough, the players are insistent that they are indeed putting in the effort.

“We’re trying,” said Kessel. “I don’t know if people can see it but we are trying, we just, I don’t know, we can’t find it right now.”

There is still a large portion of the season left to play. While it’s been a year of extremes for the Maple Leafs, the commitment to get better is still there.

“I believe in our group, but we’ve underperformed,” said Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf. “We’re at where we’re at right now, and there’s no one that’s going get us out of it but us.”

What we have here is a simple 'take the bad with the good’ situation that has developed. The Leafs are playing a better brand of hockey. There is no denying it. It hasn’t been pretty and the results aren’t there.

This was never about short-term results – it’s about playing the right way. It’s playing the way that will produce long term results.

Confidence might be low, but deviating from the system they have going is not an option. There will be nothing to achieve by a deviation from the game plan.

There is no quick fix, just a long and tedious one.

Nobody ever said it would be easy.

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