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Leafs won't repeat slump

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
by John McCauley

TORONTO - If you're a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, the beads of sweat are slowly starting to multiply across your forehead as you think about the blue and white's lacklustre stretch since Christmas.

Yes, the Leafs have just five wins in 15 games during that span, ominously familiar to a post-Christmas swoon last season. Yes, the Leafs are struggling to score goals. Yes, Curtis Joseph has yet to find his extra gear. Yes, the team could use some defensive depth. But no, the Leafs aren't on the verge of stumbling into the playoffs just like last year.

Gary Roberts would help the struggling power play if he's ready for Tuesday's game against the Sharks.
Dave Sanford/Getty Images
This team has been losing to teams it isn't supposed to, however, the way the Leafs are losing is a far cry from what plagued them last year. Avoiding a hot goalie here or a bad bounce there, could very well have the Leafs still atop the Eastern Conference but that hasn't happened.

That's not to say the team isn't concerned, frustrated and looking for answers. Everyone thought the Leafs' 6-1 drubbing of the Calgary Flames last Tuesday was the end of the slide. It probably would have been if the team hadn't had two full days off before going against the red-hot Vancouver Canucks.

It's very easy to lose your focus after a decisive win, especially when you can't get right back on the horse. Momentum is lost during that kind of break and getting touched for three first-period goals is evidence of that.

In Edmonton the Leafs rebounded and the 4-1 final score wasn't indicative of their actual play. Toronto outshot the hometown heroes 10-4 in the first period and if it hadn't been for Tommy Salo it would have been a completely different game.

Toronto also picked up its physical play. Travis Green made his presence felt in what was one of his best games as a Leaf. The forward connected with two highlight-reel hits, something he has to continue to do in order to be successful.

Excuses aside, the Leafs need to come up with some points and the San Jose Sharks are as good as any team to start against. Toronto tangles with their former West Coast rival Tuesday night at Air Canada Centre. Trouble is the Sharks aren't a push-over team but that could be exactly what the Leafs need considering their trouble with lesser opponents.

Toronto will have to go back to basics and play a sound defensive game and let the offence come when the opportunity arises. Gary Roberts would help that if he's ready to go after suffering a back strain last Thursday. His return would help the powerplay, which has slumped, going 4-for-40 in the last 10 games.

Even if the Leafs drop a couple more games before turning it around there is a feeling around the team that the wins will return. The panic button is far from being pushed and the veteran cast of characters is better off because of last year's second half.

Now it up to them to settle down and play the way their talent allowed them prior to this slump.
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