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Tough Night At The Office For Leafs

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
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After a 5-4 home loss to a New York Islanders team that had lost seven of their last eight has left the Toronto Maple Leafs in last place in the Eastern Conference.

Only the Los Angles Kings have fewer points than the Leafs. That would be 29th out of 30th for those of you counting at home.

The Leafs, 1-0 losers in Buffalo Wednesday, could not convert a lengthy, two-man advantage in the dying moments of the game.

Hard luck defenceman Bryan McCabe was hit with three minor penalties. Twice the Islanders scored and McCabe made an ill-advised decision to pinch with the Leafs on the power play that led to another Islanders marker.

“There wasn’t a lot to do with that puck even if we had made a great play,” conceded Leafs coach Paul Maurice

McCabe deals in the big plays, for and against, but he was by no means the only Maple Leaf to endure a difficult night. The Leafs gave up four goals in seven power play chances. The Leafs, meanwhile, garnered one power play marker in five power plays.

The number of man advantage goals skewered what was a poor night for the defence, no one seemed interesting in addressing one of the forest of attackers stationed at the crease. Hal Gill is not putting the video of the game on his MySpace page.

For the record, Darcy Tucker with his 10th, Mats Sundin with number 24, Matt Stajan (13) and Alexei Ponikarovsky (14) scored for the Maple Leafs. Who cares who scored for New York.

The Leafs have found a remarkable variety in ways to lose. They fell in Buffalo when goalie Ryan Miller smothered everything in his direction. They lost to the Islanders when Rick DiPietro was kicking out rebounds like a foozball goalie. They can do with lots of shots and few shots, with a good penalty kill and a bad one.

“That’s the game of hockey,” Stajan said. “Some night the hockey gods are with you, some nights they aren’t.”

It was put to Stajan that if that was truly the case, someone has done something to rile one, if not all of the hockey deities.

“I don’t know,” he said. “We definitely have had our fair share of bad bounces but we don’t want to make excuses. We should have won that hockey game. We didn’t play well. We can’t come in here and say we played as well as we could have because we didn’t.”

“We need to score on special teams, especially in the third period when we didn’t tie the game,” said Ponikarovsky. “We just have to work at it and get better.”

Results like the Islander game are exactly what a sizable number of Leafs fans are hoping for. A complete rebuild would be hastened by a finish at the bottom of the standings. The first stages of a rebuild, with nothing tangible to hope for in the near future, are the hardest.

And to be fair the Maple Leafs are trying. Other than the occasional blowout - we refer, of course to the 8-0 loss to the Florida Panthers last week - they are competitive and astonishingly willing.

They just spring leaks.

When asked to identify the most frustrating element of his team’s play, Maurice paused and thought the question over. Heaven knows he had choices. He waited 15 seconds. Try it yourself. Time yourself in silence for 15 seconds. It’s not easy.

“It’s just the times of the games where we would get out of doing simple things in a tie game,” he said. “Decisions, to try to create things that aren’t there. We have a tendency to push on that offensive side when there is no offense to get."

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