This isn't lookin' good

Leafs captain Mats Sundin is checked by Sabres defenceman Henrik Tallinder in front of netminder...

Leafs captain Mats Sundin is checked by Sabres defenceman Henrik Tallinder in front of netminder Ryan Miller during pre-season action Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2005. (Toronto Sun/Fred Thornhill)

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:44 AM ET

There's a mere week to go before the curtain lifts on the NHL regular season, and coach Pat Quinn has little doubt as to what his Maple Leafs will be doing at the office.

"All I know is we're going to have to do a lot better job killing penalties and we have to get the power play better," Quinn said last night after the Leafs lost 5-2 to the Buffalo Sabres in a boring, no-flow pre-season game at the Air Canada Centre.

"We have not spent any time on either one, but you can bet we are going to spend the next week on trying to get some principles in there. If it continues as it is, we'll have to find ways to win on special teams."

In hindsight, the Leafs and Sabres should have scrapped the game entirely and gone directly to the shootout, which is obligatory in all pre-season games. After sitting through 2 1/2 hours of their lives that they will never get back, some of the announced crowd of 18,831 stuck around to watch as Tie Domi, the 16th shooter, beat Sabres goalie Ryan Miller between the legs for the only goal. Though the concept remains a tough way to end a hockey game, there was little else to get excited about.

Ed Belfour, who made 32 saves in playing the full game, thwarted eight Sabres in the shootout.

Only a home-and-home set with the Detroit Red Wings this weekend remains for the Leafs in the pre-season, and it's clear they could use more than two games to get accustomed to the new NHL before the real fun begins.

With referees Dave Jackson and Chris Rooney burning out the peas in their whistles, the Leafs were short-handed 10 times in the first two periods, giving up four power-play goals. And it was not just one or two Leafs who were stymied by the new no-nos -- eight different Toronto players were called for minors in the first 40 minutes.

"It's frustrating because it is no longer a man's game out there," said Steve Thomas, who joined the penalty parade with a hooking minor in the third period. "If I can get a 220-pound guy to fall down just by putting my stick on him, it shouldn't happen. It was one of those drab games where we got caught in penalty trouble."

Overall, the Sabres were 4-for-12 with a man advantage and scored twice on five-on-three opportunities. The Leafs, on a goal by Mariusz Czerkawski in the third, were 1-for-8.

Of the Leafs who a) played last night and b) are not guaranteed of jobs come opening night Oct. 5 against the Ottawa Senators, 2002 first-rounder Alex Steen again was solid.

Thomas lamented not scoring on his shootout chance, and Nathan Perrott, thanks partly to the penalty stream, had less than five minutes of ice time. Kyle Wellwood was not able to generate much on power plays and another hopeful, Clarke Wilm, spent much of his night trying to kill penalties.

Troubling for Quinn was the struggles of the defence corps -- Alexander Khavanov and Andy Wozniewski, Wade Belak and Aki Berg, and Bryan Marchment and Staffan Kronwall.

"You saw our guys get beat a number of times on the outside and that is discouraging," Quinn said. "I don't know if it has clarified our back end at all in my opinion."


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