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Leafs Look To Tighten Up Defensively

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Check out Wednesday's video: Joe & Henny | Wilson | Mayers | Kubina | Antropov

The Toronto Maple Leafs need a few good men.

Make that a few good older men.

The Leafs latest bit of falling behind folly came Tuesday when they trailed the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1 after just one period. The Leafs rallied to force overtime and salvage a point in a 5-4 loss but the weight of the points that slipped away irritate coach Ron Wilson.

“We’ve let slip six or seven points,” said Wilson, whose club plays in Boston on Thursday.

“We could be right at the top of the standings in the Eastern Conference.”

Instead, the Maple Leafs are losers of two straight and 5-4-4. They sit eighth in the conference, not a terrible scenario considering the early-season projections but probably lower than is actually deserved.

Wilson isn’t ready to name names but he did say he is not ecstatic with goalie Vesa Toskala, the loser in Tuesday’s defeat.

The Finnish goalie “was a bit up and down,” Wilson said. “He needs to be a little more consistent.”

Toskala’s save percentage of .887 is 25th in the league. The Leafs have not been surrendering that many shots so that number figures to be inflated. Perhaps more telling is his 3.00 goals against average, the 21st best figure in the league.

But Wilson stops short of laying the bulk of the blame on Toskala. At practice on Wednesday, players were drilled on defensive zone coverage. The Leafs have blocked more shots but also created more screens for opposing shooters. They just need to ratchet up their defensive play after the giddy experience of scoring 20 goals in their last four games.

Defenceman Pavel Kubina said the transition from a man-to-man used last season under coach Paul Maurice and Wilson’s zone set-up has come with a steep learning curve. “Still, we shouldn’t be giving up four goals in one period like we did against Carolina,” Kubina said.

Wilson believes that it falls to the veterans to tighten things up, particularly at Air Canada Centre.

“It’s our veteran players, not our young players who have not been ready to play at home. Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin were certainly ready last night and so was Luke Schenn,” he said. “We need guys who realize they have to lead by example.”

Forward Jamal Mayers, a minus-one against Carolina, agrees.

“The older guys need to set the precedent. When things aren’t going well, the younger players need to be able to lean on the older guys.”
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