Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Why Listless Leafs Lack Desperation Early in Games Is 'Million-Dollar Question'

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Why Listless Leafs Lack Desperation Early in Games Is 'Million-Dollar Question'

Article excerpt

Lack of early desperation killing Leafs

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TORONTO - There are many questions surrounding the Toronto Maple Leafs, namely: How did this happen?

How, in less than two weeks, did a team that was sitting pretty in second place in the Atlantic Division fritter away a three-point lead over the Montreal Canadiens and nine-point advantage over the Detroit Red Wings?

As the players come to grips with the roots of their six-game losing streak, Tuesday's almost-comeback against the St. Louis Blues highlighted a big issue: Why can't the Leafs play with the desperation they show when down two or three goals at the start of games?

"That's the million-dollar question right now," winger James van Riemsdyk said. "It seems like every time we get down we start to ramp it up, and then it's always just a little too little, too late at the end."

It may be too little, too late for the Leafs if they can't figure out how to solve that problem. They're tied at 80 points with the Red Wings, Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals but are fourth among those teams for the Eastern Conference's two wild-card spots because they've played the most games (74).

Of course that also means their eight remaining are the fewest among those in the race and there's not much time to figure out slow starts, a central problem during this losing skid. Against the Blues, the Leafs scored first for the first time since March 10, but they also gave up a season-high 23 shots in the opening period and were hemmed in their zone often.

"We just couldn't get out of our zone," winger Joffrey Lupul said. "They put a lot of pressure on us, and we couldn't handle it."

Coach Randy Carlyle noticed some of the pressure that has been building on his team early on Tuesday night.

"There's a lot of tenseness in our players," he said after the 5-3 loss. "The first three puck recoveries, we just slapped the puck away. We didn't pick up the puck and skate with it at all. That's showing signs of being nervous, tense, (a lack of) confidence not wanting to make a mistake, which led to more offensive-zone time (for St. Louis)."

The listless Leafs led for less than five minutes, then trailed from the time David Backes scored with 32. …

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