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What's Wrong With The Leafs?

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
by John McCauley

February 17, 2004


(TORONTO) -- A bad dream is slowly turning into a nightmare for the Toronto Maple Leafs as defensive lapses continue to send a scare across Leafs Nation.

Giving up nine goals in the last 24 hours -- a 5-2 loss to the Boston Bruins Tuesday and an 8-4 victory in Pittsburgh on Monday make the math work -- the Leafs appear to have morphed back into the team that was giving up glorious chances back in October and early November.

The only way they solved it that time was a team meeting after a 3-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers. Mats Sundin and a few other prominent Leafs got things going with a little pep talk and it looks like another one is in order.

Aki Berg started the futility just seconds into the game, giving the puck away off the opening face off to Joe Thornton, who walked in a ripped shot just wide on Trevor Kidd. Berg followed it up with a cross ice pass that was intercepted by Mike Knuble, who slid the puck five-hole through an already shell-shocked Kidd.

Just 11:12 later, Berg and partner Ken Klee were on the ice again as Boston went up 2-0. A turnover, this time by Klee deep in the Leafs' zone, led to Andy Hilbert's second goal of the season. Kidd had no chance on this one, but might have had a stab at it if any of Nik Antropov, Joe Nieuwendyk or Alexei Ponikarovsky were deep enough to help out their netminder.

"We had to score eight goals to win last night," head coach Pat Quinn said. "That doesn't say a lot about how your team is playing.

"We have to look at ourselves it's easy to blame someone else. Our team play has not been good enough for any goaltender."

The Leafs' defence was losing the little battles all night.
(Graig Abel Photography)

Things did take a mild turn for the better when Owen Nolan notched a shorthanded goal, the team's second in as many games, on a pretty individual effort.

With the score 2-1 Kidd needed to hold down the fort for the Leafs, but again his defence let him down. Drake Berehowsky, dressed in favour of Bryan Marchment for the second straight game, couldn't hold on to big Glen Murray in front of the net and another turnover cost the Toronto. Klee was on the ice and registered a minus-3 for the period.

It was the third straight game the Leafs have allowed three goals in a single frame.

Things didn't get any better in the second when just after spirited fight between Tie Domi and Doug Doull, Karel Pilar handed the puck to Martin Lapointe, who centred it to a wide open Ted Donator.

Are you seeing a pattern forming here?

Fifty-four seconds later Joe Thorton ripped a wrist shot through Berg and Kidd to officially make it a beating.

"It's pretty ugly right now," said Kidd. "We're making mistakes that are hurting us."

How do the Leafs stop this defensive slump?

The team has to simplify its game. When things aren't going well make the easy play and work hard. That's simple enough don't you think?

Clearly though, the trust relationship has evaporated between the defencemen and forwards and that leaves whoever's in the net on a solo mission. Yes, Ed Belfour makes up for some of those defensive errors, but it's hard to say how much he could've helped against the Bruins.

The only thing for the Leafs to do is go back and re-visit what was said earlier when things were looking scary at the start of the season.

"We can't panic because we know when we play our game we're one of the best teams in the league. Unfortunately we're beating ourselves right now," said Tom Fitzgerald.
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