Leafs feel the heat in Florida

Maple Leafs centre Tyler Bozak looks for a rebound against Panthers goaltender Tomas Vokoun in...

Maple Leafs centre Tyler Bozak looks for a rebound against Panthers goaltender Tomas Vokoun in Sunrise, Florida on November 10, 2010. (HAND DERYK/Reuters)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:04 AM ET

SUNRISE, Fla. — The heat’s on the Maple Leafs, 27 degrees outside, a seven-game losing streak at the rink, Brian Burke talking changes and their own goalie calling them out.

So the Leafs tried to take motivational matters into their own hands, gathering at their hotel for a players-only meeting on Wednesday morning, delving into why a good training camp and a four-game winning streak turned into a 1-7-3 mess.

They might as well have spent the time watching the movie Score: A Hockey Musical, as they sputtered to a second straight loss, 4-1 to a less than intimidating Panthers team, save for goalie Tomas Vokoun.

The Leafs were almost blanked back-to-back in Tampa Bay and South Florida for the first time since the NHL came to the Sunshine State in 1992. In the past 11 games, they have just 16 goals, the last coming from Mikhail Grabovski with the Panthers on cruise control at 13:25 of the third.

Mayor-elect Rob Ford was in the BankAtlantic Center crowd with his mother Diane, perhaps wondering if his campaign to halt the gravy train had somehow extended to the Leafs’ frost-bitten forwards.

Wednesday’s result may or may not fast track general manager Burke’s itchy cell phone finger. With other struggling NHL clubs getting closer to the unofficial U.S. Thanksgiving player movement window, Burke is also watching a Marlies’ farm team on a five-game points’ run.

“We’re looking at lots of things, including that the Marlies are hot,” Burke said in an e-mail to the Toronto Sun.

With coach Ron Wilson running out of explanations and Jean-Sebastien Giguere ripping them in the media after the flat 4-0 loss in Tampa, the players met after waking up from Tuesday’s Tampa trauma. It was chaired by the three alternate captains, Francois Beauchemin, Tomas Kaberle and Mike Komisarek, with Dion Phaneuf back home recovering from a badly cut leg.

“Obviously one guy had to bring it up, but at the end of the day, everyone wanted to meet,” Kaberle said before last night’s game.

“You need to say stuff you want to say and not keep it to yourself. The oldest guys can speak or the youngest, but you have to get the stuff out of your system and make sure we’re on the same page. You just can’t be shy about it, you don’t want to keep it to yourself.

“The main thing is what we say off the ice we have to bring on the ice.”

Beauchemin said the team deserved much of the grief it’s getting from fans, but drew the line at the idea that this bunch is in worse shape than the ragged army that the opened

’09-10 season with one win in its first 13 starts.

“No, not even close,” he said. “We’re playing a lot better than we were then. The effort is there, it’s just the offence isn’t coming.

“Most of the guys talked (Wednesday morning). We said all the right things. We all know what we have to do to ve better. It’s about doing it on the ice now.”

But once again, the Leafs are flirting with 83-year-old club records for scoring futility. Toronto started out stronger before a back-breaking goal by Bryan Allen in the first period and then others by Steven Reinprecht, Shawn Matthias and Michael Frolik.

Before this two-game set began, Wilson half-joked “I’ll take a 6-5 win or 1-0, as long as we find a way to win.”

He did what he swore he wouldn’t, break up Grabovski’s line, his most competent two-way troika, putting Nikolai Kulemin with Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel. Kris Versteeg was then inserted with Grabovski and Clark MacArthur. But it did little good with the Leafs blowing four power plays to go 0-for-9 in 48 hours.

Christian Hanson and Carl Gunnarsson replaced Luca Caputi and Korbininan Holzer, but changing fourth liners and sixth defencemen aren’t the answer.

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


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