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Leafs looking to get better defensively

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
by Tony Care


Tonight the Leafs will play in Detroit and hope to continue the improvement that they showed during the last two contests, wins over Ottawa and Pittsburgh.

While the offence has gotten on track, scoring 10 goals in the last two games, the defence has had some shaky moments each outing and it's reflected in the 18 goals in five games that the team has allowed. Granted, Curtis Joseph hasn't been involved in many of those goals, but Leaf players and coaches know he can't face 40 shots a night either.

"We've still got a little work to do," said Leaf forward Gary Roberts who will miss tonight's match against the Red Wings and the next two following an NHL suspension because of an altercation after the final whistle in the Leafs last game. "Hopefully we can build on the last two games that we've won. Everyone is trying to feel each other out. We'll get lots of opportunities to get scoring chances but we need to play better defensively."

But the defence alone shouldn't shoulder all the blame for the team's problems. Toronto coach Pat Quinn hasn't been pleased with the forward's lack of backchecking. During the first three preseason losses in which Toronto was outscored 12-1 against Montreal and Ottawa, Quinn said the forwards didn't help the defence in any way.

"We've seen some improvement over the early games in fundamental areas - positioning properly and the mental parts of the game - I've seen promise that way," he said. "But we're not ready, not where we want to be. We have skill there (forwards), but skill alone doesn't win in this business and we do hope to put it together. We have to be more disciplined and aware enough to know your responsibilities (in helping the defence)."

Newly acquired sniper Alexander Mogilny agrees with Quinn's assessment.

"We probably won't have trouble scoring goals but we'll have to take care of the other end."

Quinn doesn't see the defence as lacking in talent, but this unit needs to eliminate the mental mistakes that have left goaltenders to fend for themselves. Sunday's 5-4 victory over the Senators is a good example of what Quinn is talking about.

Mikael Tellqvist, who is in a battle with Corey Schwab for the right to backup Joseph, allowed four goals on just 18 shots. However, there were just too many defensive breakdowns in the game for Quinn to get a good read on how Tellqvist performed.

"Our defence missed assignments in front of him," said Quinn after the game. "Not just our defencemen, but defensive misses. Your goalie has to get a sense of trust for the players in front of him. It's hard to assess your goalies under these circumstances."

The trust that Quinn is referring to is something the Leaf defence will need to develop soon.

Notes: The Leafs have submitted a protected list of 18 skaters and two goalies to the NHL in preparation for the waiver draft that will occur on Friday at noon (ET). A complete list of protected players by each club will be released by the NHL on Wednesday.
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