Problems rest with the defence

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:51 AM ET

It sure doesn't take a very imaginative writer to kick a team after they've been disgraced as thoroughly as the Maple Leafs were last night in losing 8-0 to the Ottawa Senators.

So let's get right to it, shall we?

To sum it up, the Leafs watched as one of the league's brighter young stars, Dany Heatley, doubled his goal total to eight with four straight goals.

EDDIE YANKED

Leafs goalie Ed Belfour, a thorn in the spleen of the Senators in two past playoffs, was chased after the first five Ottawa goals.

Senators heavyweight Brian McGrattan knocked Tie Domi to his knees with a powerful right in the second period, damaging with one punch the perpetual edge in toughness the Leafs have long lorded over the Senators.

"Right now you feel that everybody's lousy," Leafs coach Pat Quinn said in the wake of the debacle.

"But we're not."

Maybe not.

Just the defence.

Quinn could, and did, talk about the terrible backchecking turned in by Leafs forwards.

But the Leafs have a fault line along the blueline and it will vex this team all season long.

You have two defencemen, Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe, in the top quarter of defenceman and another, Ken Klee, in the top half.

In other words, you are not good enough.

The Leafs only needed to look across the ice.

If Zdeno Chara, Chris Phillips or Wade Redden were grafted onto the Leafs' roster, they would automatically assume the mantle of No. 1 guy.

Belak, poor Belak, had a shot bounce off his skate which wasn't his fault. Still, he finished minus-3 and now stands at minus-9.

He is not an NHL defenceman. He is a tough guy with a shield and an unfathomable place on the roster.

The problem, believe it or not, exacerbates with injury. With Aki Berg out with an injured shoulder, the Maple Leafs turned to Staffan Kronvall, with Alexander Khavanov rounding out the blueline corps. Those two finished a combined minus-5.

Quinn doesn't plan to stop pairing Kaberle and McCabe, but when they take a break, the responsibility falls even more heavily on the guys further down the food chain.

The Leafs have only played 11 games. They are minus-11 five-on-five but the problems have come, as much as anything, from the blueline out.

How lopsided is the Leafs' defence?

Six of Ottawa's eight goals were scored against the Leafs second and third pairings.

"It's not about second or third units," Klee said. "Top to bottom we were pretty bad. Everybody was a minus tonight."

Belfour wondered if new rules limiting the range of goalies was making things worse.

"I don't play the puck as much and they get in our zone much more than in the past," Belfour said.

Nah.

Here is the problem.

Klee is a player who demands a competent partner. Alexander Khavanov looks soft.

It's too soon to tell much about Kronwall.

So where does that leave the Leafs?

Three guys short and stuck at .500.

There are not many solutions. Carlo Colaiacovo, the perpetual next move, is unavailable due to injury, and Ian White and Andy Wozniewski are probably not yet ready.

HELP NEEDED

That said, if ever a club needed fresh horses on the blue line ...

There has been scant words on trade possibilities, although Brendan Witt is said to be available in Washington.

It doesn't take a very imaginative writer to see trouble on the horizon.

But it will take a very imaginative general manager to fix it.


Photos