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Leafs Looking To Jump On Sens Tuesday

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

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Mark Twain is famous for observing that everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything about it.

Sort of like the Toronto Maple Leafs and their inability to get a lead.

The Calgary Flames mercilessly highlighted that trend Saturday, scoring two goals in the game’s first 1:37 and then another before period’s end.

The Leafs rallied nicely with two goals, as they did a couple of nights before against Chicago, but storming a beachhead takes a fearsome amount of energy. Invariably, the other team sends in only a token forechecker and waits to thwart whatever desperate advance the Leafs can muster.

And while it looks as if the Leafs are markedly more fit, the players aren’t fooled.

“I would love to say the difference is conditioning but the game changes a little bit when the other team goes up 2-0, “said forward Nik Hagman. “We’re playing well when we’re behind, but we don’t have any pressure,” he said.

The Leafs have surrendered the first goal in their last three games. They lost all of them. 

Toronto players have watched their opponents score first in 14 of their 17 games. Put another way, the Leafs have gained five of their 11 points, nearly half, in the three games they have scored the game’s opening goal.

There are few theories on how this has happened. Players describe the phenomenon as they would describe a traffic accident: a few details amidst the fog.

“We’re not doing the right things,” Hagman said.  Those little things, little battles, we’re not winning them. We’re not playing it smart enough. We tend to do it okay, occasionally, and then we don’t do it for a shift or two and then it costs us.”

Phil Kessel, who will begin Tuesday’s game in Ottawa with Matt Stajan and Alexei Ponikarovsky, was flummoxed when asked for an explanation.

“I couldn’t tell you. We come out flat a little bit,” he said. “We’ve just got to focus on the first 10 minutes of the game.”

Nice thought but probably not the first time it’s been offered.

The vexing thing is the Leafs to a man know they can’t allow the first goal. They talk about it and then, almost  sure as gravity, their opponents score first.

It’s enough to convince onlookers that the team is spooked early in the game, so cautious as to be helpless when the puck slides into the Toronto zone.

Leafs coach Ron Wilson acknowledged the obvious and applies a simple truth: make doing the right thing easier,

“That’s all we talk about, bad starts or things we can do. We’ve got to simplify our approach at the beginning. More dump-ins and safe plays in the neutral zone.”

“We’ve got to bear down and do it right from the beginning,” Wilson said.

Expect Vesa Toskala, fresh from a good performance against the Blackhawks to  tend goal for the Leafs in Ottawa, Defenceman Ian White was excused from practice for personal reasons but will be back with the team in the capital.
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