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Sputtering special teams a big part of Leafs' on-ice problems @NHLdotcom

TORONTO - There are many ways the fast-sinking Toronto Maple Leafs could improve their on-ice performance. After their 5-4 loss to the New York Islanders Thursday, they could start with their special teams.

The Islanders scored four times on seven power play opportunities in the win, while Toronto converted on only one of their five chances with the extra man, including a two-man advantage midway through the third period when they were trailing the Isles by a single goal.

"If we click on our power play, we at least tie the game," said Leafs centre Matt Stajan. "We should've won that hockey game, but we didn't play well."

Toronto came into Thursday's game with the second-worst power play in the NHL (14.3 per cent efficiency), and the fifth-worst penalty kill (79.4 per cent) in the league. Of greater importance to Toronto's players, though, was yet another lost opportunity to keep the Maple Leafs' slim playoff hopes alive.

"Some nights, the hockey gods are with you, and some nights they're not," Stajan said. "We've definitely had our fair share of bad bounces tonight, but we don't want to be making excuses here. Now we've got to make sure we've got our work caps on, and come back Saturday (against Boston)".

Leafs winger Alexei Ponikarovsky said Toronto's power play specialists in particular need to be better.

"In (the power play) aspect, we need to get better and score some goals," Ponikarovsky said. "The thing is, we have to get in our minds, every one of us who's playing on the power play, to work hard and battle for the puck, double up in the corners. And we have to get a presence in front of the goalie. That's how you score goals."

The loss to the Islanders sunk Toronto to 29th overall in the league standings, and, barring a miracle, they will miss the post-season for a team-record third consecutive season. But if the Leaf players were sensing the end is near, they weren't admitting it.

"We're not going to give up in this room, but we weren't a good hockey team tonight," Stajan said of Toronto, which has lost two straight and three of their last five. "We were a tired group, and we definitely didn't play a full 60 minutes."

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