Eddie is doing too much

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:20 AM ET

The Maple Leafs will reach the quarter pole of the schedule this week, facing a dilemma that could impact the rest of the season.

Do they stay with a fragile defence as it struggles in the "new" National Hockey League, or start thinking seriously about changes?

General manager John Ferguson has salary cap considerations before committing to any trade and coach Pat Quinn is stubborn when it comes to giving up on veterans. But can they possibly go another five months and perhaps playoffs letting Ed Belfour clean up after everyone's mistakes?

The starting six have struggled since the gates opened, though Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle get some slack for their extra ice time, and offensive production, on special teams. Wade Belak and Aki Berg were exposed early in the schedule and have tried to make amends, while Ken Klee and Alex Khavanov have been under the gun of late.

It can be argued that rookie Staffan Kronwall has an advantage of not needing to break any of the old NHL obstruction habits.

Quinn has always preached defence as a five-man responsibility, but with the Leafs allowing 15 more goals than at this time in 2003-04, and unable to hold leads, his patience is wearing.

He singled out the defence for almost handing Saturday's game back to the Montreal Canadiens after a late tying goal and is worried what the confusion in front is doing to the psyche of Belfour, the Leafs' 40-year-old lifeline.

Ten of the 16 giveaways charged to the Leafs were traced to Belfour, Klee and McCabe.

"We're just not as dependable defensively as we need to be to give our goaltender the kind of confidence that he can take his position properly," Quinn said. "He now is trying to play defence and do a lot of other jobs, because quite frankly we're not doing those jobs around him. For him to be the kind of player he can be for us, we have to start doing better so he can concentrate on what he does best -- stopping the puck."

When reloading after the lockout, Ferguson was obviously counting on the likes of Klee, Khavanov, Berg and Belak to bridge the talent level so the likes of Kronwall and Carlo Colaiacovo could be eased into the lineup. But now McCabe and Kaberle are at the top end of NHL ice time -- close to 29 minutes a game on average after both went over 32 minutes in Saturday's overtime win -- with lots of uncertainty elsewhere.

Belfour played down Quinn's concerns about his well-being.

"I feel like there's been more (work) this year, but I think it has a lot to do with the rules and how it's being called," he said. "We're penalty killing a lot."

Belfour said he is dealing with his own demons regarding the new rules, including smaller pads that he blamed for at least one goal on Saturday. He also has had continuing difficulty mastering puck control inside the trapezoid with forecheckers now able to get behind his cage faster. It almost cost him in the first period when he fielded a wraparound and came face to face with Habs' Mike Ribeiro. Only a great play by Berg saved a goal.

"It's defintely causing me more problems because I'm used to going (to the corners) and getting the puck and turning to look up-ice," he said. "Now you don't have the time for that. I'll just keep working hard and I'll figure it out."

For the second time this year, Belfour played in back-to-back games, allowing nine goals against the Buffalo Sabres and Habs, but gaining a split. He is now four wins away from tying one-time Leaf Terry Sawchuk for second in NHL history with 447.

"I've always taken pride in my career of playing back -to-back," Belfour said. "I played as lot of them in Chicago when I was younger and I always felt stronger the second night. Even though I'm older now, I still feel stronger the second night."


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