Maple Leafs Cap-size

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:04 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- Had this been a movie, it may very well have been entitled Dog Day Afternoon.

Does that reference suggest the Maple Leafs may have had a few, uh, passengers along for the ride in their 5-4 loss to the lowly Washington Capitals yesterday at the MCI Center?

We'll let coach Pat Quinn answer that one.

"We definitely have some guys who are taking nights off," the frustrated Toronto bench boss said afterward. "No team can win that way."

How the Leafs can beat the defending Stanley Cup champions one night, then plod their way to a lacklustre defeat against one of the league's bottom-feeders less than 24 hours later, is enough to drive Quinn bonkers.

After his team disposed of the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-3 Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre, the prospect of having a healthy Mats Sundin in the lineup against a rebuilding Caps team should have been the grounds for optimism.

Guess again.

Compounding matters is the prospect that the team could be without defenceman Aki Berg for a prolonged period of time. Berg missed the final two periods with what Quinn called a "sprain of the knee" and will be re-evaluated today.

"We don't know how serious it is," Quinn said.

Playing a rare 5 p.m. start, the Leafs came out of the gates as if they didn't expect the opening faceoff until the normal 7 p.m. time. They took their first penalty just 14 seconds into the game and found themselves already down a goal six minutes later when goalie Mikael Tellqvist fanned on a soft Bryan Muir shot from the high slot.

If anything, special teams proved to be Toronto's downfall. The Caps shredded the Leafs for three power-play goals and added a shorthanded marker courtesy of Matt Pettinger.

Referees Mike Hasenfratz and Dan O'Rourke did make several phantom penalty calls, but the only accusing finger Quinn was wagging on this night was directly at his own players, not the zebras.

"You could argue every penalty for both sides, but there are no excuses," he said. "It's a pretty unhappy outcome, pretty disappointing.

"We were outworked. Our fourth line (Kyle Wellwood, Clarke Wilm and Alexander Steen) was our best line because they worked. But our other guys seemed to think they can rely on skill and not work. More often than not, you can't be successful that way."

Sundin, who set up linemate Jeff O'Neill for a pair of beautiful goals, suggested the Leafs are "lacking a bit of confidence."

It was Sundin who claimed at the end of the 2003-04 season that the Leafs flushed away a chance to have home-ice advantage in their playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers because they dropped too many games to opponents below them in the standings.

The Leafs and Caps have a return date tomorrow at the Air Canada Centre.

Alexander Ovechkin, with two, and Brian Willsie also scored for the Caps. Wellwood and Bryan McCabe had the other Leafs goals.


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