TORONTO - The Toronto Maple Leafs outplayed the Montreal Canadiens and got a point in a 4-3 shootout loss, but they still have only eight wins after 25 games.
It is not good enough, admits Mats Sundin, and all fingers should be pointing at the players, he says. "We're the people who control what's going on on the ice," says Sundin. "We can't blame coaches or management for how we're doing. We have to make sure we take our responsibility as players."
All is not lost, insists Sundin, whose goal with 17.6 seconds left in the third period forced extra play.
"We have (57) games to play and we have a chance to be a playoff team and to be a lot better than we are right now," he says. "(Tuesday night) we did a lot of good things."
Yet, they lost their fourth consecutive game and are buried near the bottom of the overall standings, which means coach Paul Maurice and GM John Ferguson will continue to feel the heat despite Sundin's defence of their efforts.
"It is crazy but, hey, I'd rather have people worrying about what's going on with our team than not," Sundin said. "I think most of the guys feel that way."
Wins are the only things that can erase the negativity.
"When things are not going right, there's going to be things written about you or said about you that you're not going to like, but that's part of being a professional athlete, especially in a market like this," Sundin said.
He and his teammates are fortunate to be in a market such as Toronto, he said.
"The city and the fans really care about our team and how we do," Sundin said. "Everybody's frustrated when we're not doing well, and so are the players in the dressing room.
"We're professionals and everybody hates to lose. We're trying to be as good as we can be and make everybody proud of this team. You know, when things aren't going well in Toronto, this is what happens. As players, we have to focus on trying to become better."
Goaltender Carey Price and the league's best power play kept the Canadiens in the game despite Toronto's 45-27 shots advantage through 60 minutes.
Toronto, which entered the game ranked 27th in power-play efficiency, was 0-for-4 and Montreal was 2-for-5 with manpower advantages.
Alexei Kovalev scored two goals with Leafs in the penalty box and Guillaume Latendresse also scored during regulation time for Montreal. Darcy Tucker and Chad Kilger also scored in regulation for the Leafs.
"There was a great sense of urgency in the locker room all day," said coach Paul Maurice. "We played a really good game.
"We stuck with it right to the end."
In the shootout, Kovalev and Sundin were the only players to score after each team had three chances. Chris Higgins then shot into Vesa Toskala's left leg pad, while Tucker missed the net. After Andrei Kostitsyn fired the puck between Toskala's legs, Price stuck out his right leg to foil Jason Blake.
The pressure mounts.
"There are fingers being pointed at everybody and as players we look at ourselves and we have to be better," Sundin said. "We can't blame anyone else.
"We're the ones out there playing. There's no one else on the ice. We just have to be better as a group if we want to make the playoffs."
The Leafs would have made the playoffs last year - they missed by just one point - had they won one-half of their games that ended in shootouts.
"We have as good a team this year on paper that we had last year," Sundin said. "Are we underachieving? Is that what it means? I guess so. We have to find a way to be better."
Montreal had lost two in a row before skating into Air Canada Centre, and captain Saku Koivu and his teammates sounded after this one as if they and not the Leafs were the losers.
"We gave (up) too many shots, mostly because I think we played too defensive-minded in the last 20 minutes, and didn't push enough for that (extra) goal," said Koivu. "But (Price) made the saves when they were needed, and I thought our defence did a pretty good job clearing out rebounds."
They knew it was going to be a hard game, said coach Guy Carbonneau.
"They've had trouble," he said of the Leafs. "We've also had a little trouble the last couple weeks.
"They always find a way to play hard against us, and they did."
Toronto led twice but couldn't avoid a fourth straight loss because it couldn't match the Habs' shootout success and because it couldn't put a puck in the ocean when the guys in red and white sat in the sin bin.
Notes: Sundin's 12th goal this season was his 400th as a Leaf. The captain has at least one point in all of Toronto's 14 home games . . . Kovalev has scored eight of his 12 goals on power plays . . . 'MLSE president Richard Peddie said before the game: "We view this as a work in progress." The organization assesses staff at the end of a season, he added . . . Announced attendance was a season-high 19,608 . . . Bell was elevated to the Leafs' first line despite failing to score in his first nine appearances with the team . . . F-D Wade Belak was back in Toronto's lineup after sitting out nine. LW Alexei Ponikarovsky (leg cramps) and C Jiri Tlusty (leg) couldn't play, and LW Bates Battaglia was a healthy scratch . . . Montreal, which has no significant injuries, deleted D Josh Gorges and C Mikhail Grabovski . . . Toronto is at Atlanta on Thursday, while Montreal's next game is at New Jersey on Friday . . . The next Leafs-Habs game is Dec. 15 in Montreal.