"We're the people who control what's going on on the ice," captain Mats Sundin said Tuesday night after Toronto's 4-3 loss to the Montreal Canadiens in a shootout. "We can't blame coaches or management for how we're doing.
"We have to make sure we take our responsibility as players."
After an 8-11-6 start, the Maple Leafs still have time to turn things around. Sundin forced overtime by scoring with 17.6 seconds left in the third period.
"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. "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 general manager John Ferguson will continue to feel the heat.
"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.
"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."
Alex Kovalev scored two power-play goals, then found the net again in the shootout for Montreal.
Andrei Kostitsyn scored between Vesa Toskala's legs in the tiebreaker, and Carey Price made a right leg save against Jason Blake to win it in the fifth shootout round.
Guillaume Latendresse also scored for the Canadiens.
Darcy Tucker, Chad Kilger and Sundin, who scored his club-record 400th goal for Toronto, beat Price in regulation.
Toronto, which entered the game ranked 27th in power-play efficiency, was 0-for-4 and Montreal was 2-for-5 with the advantage.
"There was a great sense of urgency in the locker room all day," Maurice said. "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 Toskala's left leg, and Tucker missed the net. After Kostitsyn fired the puck between Toskala's legs, Price denied Blake.
"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 season - they missed by just one point - had they won 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, and captain Saku Koivu and his teammates sounded as if they had dropped another one.
"We gave 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," Koivu said. "But (Price) made the saves when they were needed, and I thought our defense did a pretty good job clearing out rebounds."
Toronto led twice but couldn't avoid a fourth straight loss because it couldn't match the Montreal's shootout success and because it couldn't capitalize on the power play.
Notes: Bell was elevated to the Leafs' first line despite failing to score in his first nine games 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, scratched D Josh Gorges and C Mikhail Grabovski.