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Defence the Problem for Maple Leafs?

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs

November 15, 2005

TORONTO (CP) -- The Toronto Maple Leafs know what their problem is but they haven't been able to fix it.

They are scoring an average of 3.72 goals a game, which is fourth-best in the NHL's Eastern Conference, but they are allowing 3.53 a game, which puts them 13th in the conference defensively.

"We're inconsistent because we haven't adjusted to good solid team play yet,'' coach Pat Quinn said after practice Monday. "That's an everyday process you have to keep working on.

"We don't have it yet. We have it periodically, but not (consistently) enough for us to be one of the top clubs. Until we get there, we'll be a club that bounces around _ wins one, loses one.''

Leaky defence is a symptom of Quinn's teams year after year. One can only deduce that the system in use is faulty, that the players on the roster don't fit it, or they need more time to grasp it. Quinn hopes more time will do the trick.

"We have a lot of people missing assignments,'' he says. "When you're trying to build a team, it's all about trust.

"We haven't developed that trust among each other quite yet.''

Toronto (9-7-2) was sixth in the East going into a home game Tuesday against the New York Rangers (Rogers Sportsnet Ontario, 7:30 p.m. ET).

The Rangers (11-5-3) have successfully applied coach Tom Renney's defensive schemes. They're scoring as often as the Leafs, and they've allowed 22 fewer goals. Jaromir Jagr, who already has 17 goals, will give the leaky Leafs fits.

"We get running around and take a lot of risks,'' says forward Matt Stajan. "When you take a lot of risks you're going to score some goals but you're also going to have a lot scored against you.

"We play a system that can work. It takes all five guys on the ice being on the same page. It's what we're working on, to clean that up. If we can keep scoring the goals, and get better defensively, we're going to win a lot more hockey games.''

Toronto's defencemen usually take the brunt of the criticism for the poor goals-against average.

"People who finger-point at our D, saying it's their fault, that's stupid,'' says Stajan. "If you really know the game, it's five guys working together who can make the (defensive) system work.

"If one guy makes a mistake, you should have four teammates out there to back you up. That's where we've got to get better.''

Quinn moved Jason Allison back to centre, putting him between Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky.

"I know I can be better,'' said Allison. "It's been hard some nights given all the penalties and the flow of the game.''

He got only two shifts when his teammates took five penalties in the first period of their 5-4 overtime win in Montreal on Saturday.

"The whole period is gone and then the next period you struggle a bit to get in the flow again,'' said Allison. "It's not something I've been familiar with in my career.''

The Leafs have served an average of 18.7 minutes a game in penalties. That put them 18th among the 30 teams heading into Monday's action.

"We have to find a way to stay out of the penalty box,'' said right-winger Tie Domi. "Throughout the whole league, everybody is trying to find a solution.

"Everybody is second-guessing themselves on what's right and what's wrong. Hopefully, we'll get the problem solved and make it easier for everybody to be in the game'' instead of languishing on the bench as Allison and Jeff O'Neill did during the first period Saturday.


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