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Leafs find ways to win, but for how long?

Monday, 24.02.2003 / 12:00 AM / News
Toronto Maple Leafs
Heading into his second season with mapleleafs.com, writer John McCauley helps keep you informed with all the most important Leafs' news. You can read John regularly as the Leafs battle towards the Stanley Cup.


by John McCauley

There isn't much doubt about how well the Leafs have been playing lately, but how long is it going to last?

Winners of 10 of their last 12 games thanks to balanced scoring, good goaltending, solid special teams and a never-say-die attitude, the Leafs appear to be on top of their game, save for an untidy 5-2 loss to the Nashville Predators Sunday night.

Now, many will say how could a team as talented as the Leafs lose to the Predators?

Well there are a few reasons that come to mind. It being the backend of a back-to-back set, no morning skate because of the big storm and well the Predators always gear themselves up for their only trip to T.O.

Gary Robert says the Leafs need to use the Nashville loss as a lesson.
Graig Abel Photography
A little closer look at the last four games though, and the bad habits that had Toronto sputter to a 4-9-2-0 start appear to be creeping back into the fold.

Sundin and the crew have managed to give up 13 goals over that span. Making matters worse is the fact that the opposition has been given leads during spans of horrific play. Just look at the 7:17 it took Montreal to notch its three tallies on Saturday.

Fortunately for the Leafs they've been able to get the timely goal scoring needed to keep their hot hand, but the trouble is, defence wins hockey games plain and simple. The offence isn't going to be able to bail the team out all the time.

That's what caused the season-starting swoon in the first place, forcing the offensive issue and subsequently taking too many risks resulting in turnover goals. Bad decisions, if just one or two per game, were costing the Leafs points each and every night. If that starts again they'll find themselves fighting for their playoff lives.

Pat Quinn's teams have always been offensive minded, but good defence is usually how the chances are created.

"We haven't been real sharp defensively. We have to find a way to shore that up," Quinn said. "Our forwards have not been contributing defensively and you start to lose that trust and start playing like robots."

Mats Sundin agrees fully with his benchboss.

"It's a six-man unit on D and the forwards have been leaving the defence hanging," Sundin said. "It's too tough in this league to comeback to do that."

Gary Roberts told the crew after the Nashville debacle that over the past week or so that they've probably won a couple they shouldn't have and, to use the loss as a reality check. Right now they're looking to try the "fancy" play early and it's getting them in bad situations.

"At times you are too hard on yourself when things are going well and in the same way, you are light on yourself when things are going well," Quinn said.

There's no better indication of the Leafs being "light on themselves" than a home loss to Nashville. Now they'll have to prove this was just a blip as they face both the New York Islanders and Detroit Red Wings this week.
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