Coyotes pick the carcass

LANCE HORNBY

, Last Updated: 9:02 AM ET

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- That wasn't a pre-recorded howl of a Coyote after five goals on the Maple Leafs last night, but the sound of fans all the way from Toronto, howling for someone's blue and white scalp.

Whether it's general manager John Ferguson, coach Paul Maurice, goaltender Andrew Raycroft or any number of error-prone defencemen or unproductive forwards, some kind of change is needed after six losses in seven games.

Almost every other struggling team in the NHL has made a move of some kind, and if it's not as drastic as purging the general manager as the Dallas Stars did, firing coaches as Atlanta and Washington did and if the salary cap won't fit a trade, then it has to be a significant benching or call-up.

But Ferguson and Maurice met for an almost an hour after the 5-1 loss and outside of singling out Raycroft, Ferguson isn't pushing the panic button, nor is he worried about getting called on the carpet at home tomorrow.

"No, I'm not," he insisted. "It's too early to use that word (frustration)."

But Ferguson held a set of league standings in his hand that showed the Leafs now four points from the Eastern conference basement.

"Losing two in a row on this trip is a setback, but our expectations haven't changed," he said. "We still expect to challenge for the playoffs."

He conceded "discussions are ongoing" on player moves at the NHL level or with the Marlies, but he won't judge the Leafs until the lineup is healthy. That could be a long wait.

Though the Leafs are big on promoting past glory, losing by four in the middle of the desert to a no-name team that plays at Jobing.com Arena gives no hint of an illustrious future. They began the night in 12th place and the Coyotes victory now leaves the Leafs with a record of 8-11-5. The Leafs have played more games than almost everyone in the league, too.

Just by getting an earful from captain Shane Doan a few days ago and then adding a new body in goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, Phoenix has gone from 3-6 to 8-4.

Ferguson has been under the gun since last season for trades and free-agent signings that haven't worked, but Maurice had to explain how the Leafs let Friday's 3-1 loss in Dallas bleed into a horrible start last night.

"We couldn't survive the first period," the coach said through clenched teeth.

The Leafs have not quit on him, but neither have they showed they're getting the message about better attention to detail.

Spare us the talk about "getting back on the horse," the players mantra through 24 games with just one set of back-to-back wins. If this persists, the corral will be empty and so will Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd.'s playoff coffers. Again.

Raycroft missed another chance to re-establish himself in goal and the Bryan McCabe-Tomas Kaberle tandem was on for three early goals. Raycroft let out a couple of fat rebounds, but easy avenues to clear the puck were not taken, both old story lines.

Maurice was forced to call a timeout following the third Phoenix goal and he'd already gone the route of replacing Raycroft after two soft goals with an unprepared Vesa Toskala. While not as animated as his Nov. 6 rant in Ottawa, Maurice could coax only one goal out of the Leafs, who looked terrible on a 5-on-3 power-play in the second.

He changed some lines around, dropping Jason Blake from the first line to go back to the Mats Sundin-Alexei Ponikarovsky-Nik Antropov unit. Darcy Tucker and Mark Bell dropped the gloves in a noble attempt at sparking the team, but it would be more useful if they got around to raising their hands in goal celebrations.

Sundin, Ponikarovsky and Kaberle have been out-pointing the rest of the team in the past 11 games. Sundin said before the game that he retains belief in the roster as currently constituted, but unless he knows some motivational tactic that Maurice overlooked, his faith is misplaced.

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REPLAY

TURNING POINT

The Coyotes' Derek Morris answered Kyle Wellwood's goal in just a minute and a half, restoring a three-goal lead for Phoenix.

GAME STAR

Toronto-born Mike Zigomanis won seven of his first eight draws and drove the net well all evening. He picked up one assist.

OOPS

Take your pick of bad Leafs defensive moves, but the coverage confusion on the third goal, when Alexei Ponikarovsky and his defence were left gaping at Stephen Reinprecht, was typical of the night.

HOT HAND

Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov made 23 saves for his fourth victory in row since joining Phoenix after being claimed off waivers from the Anaheim Ducks.

STAT OF THE GAME

Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle were minus-3 early in the first period.


Photos