Leafs feeling frustrated

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:43 AM ET

The Maple Leafs, in a scoring slump, aren't yet at the panic stage.

They're not eating their hearts out.

But a few of them may have started gnawing on their left ventricles.

In their past 169 minutes of hockey, spanning three games, the Leafs have managed to score a paltry three goals. Needless to say, each of those games against Western Conference opponents has ended unhappily in defeat.

That includes consecutive 2-1 defeats on home ice against Los Angeles and Dallas heading into tonight's game against Anaheim.

"As a team, when you're struggling to score, everybody squeezes the stick a little tighter," said Bryan McCabe, one of a half-dozen Leafs' top scorers who have gone dry in December.

IN A FUNK

"We've just got to loosen up and get a win and that will change everything. We're in a little bit of a funk, especially since we're in a home stand here. It's disappointing, being that we're on the road all next month."

In Saturday's loss, Quinn put Mats Sundin and Eric Lindros together on a line, briefly, late in the game. He doesn't rule out the possibility of that happening again, especially since Sundin and Lindros combined on Toronto's only goal. Lindros prefers centre but he's not so territorial on that issue that he won't do what the coach asks him.

Quinn always has been a four-line coach and has distributed his top talent at least through three of those lines. He may be ready to experiment by concentrating his gunners a little tighter.

"It's a good possibility," he said.

"Right now we're cheating to get offence and usually when that happens you start losing games. Maybe an adjustment is necessary.

"Maybe you try to get two good lines going and two that keep the score even if you can. Now, I still really believe that if we had three well-balanced lines, boy, we'd be tough to play against. I still think that's the case. But maybe we have to start (loading up two lines)."

Sundin was at centre with Lindros on the left and Darcy Tucker on the right. Quinn didn't indicate who he might be inclined to put on a second unit, but it's not hard to identify Jason Allison, Jeff O'Neill and, perhaps, Alex Steen or Kyle Wellwood.

"We're gonna talk about it," Quinn said.

Quinn did a lot of talking at yesterday's workout. He wants his players to stop trying to play an individual game and start trusting each other and stick to the game plan. Right now, the game plan involves watching the puck carrier try to beat the other team all by himself.

"We really have to concentrate on getting teamwork back into our play, making the pass while it's there. We're a very individual team right now and the only guy who seems to be working hard is the guy with the puck.

"That's not good enough, especially against a good-checking team."

Quinn also figures that sometimes a veteran team's maturity and understanding can work against it.

"Maybe, in an unconscious way, you get too relaxed," Quinn said. "Our team, I think, has a feeling they're a pretty good team. And they can be.

"But when you get into a period where you're struggling, all the talk is 'Settle down, we're okay.' Well, we're not okay right now. We've got to have a different mentality to get back to okay.

"While it's true you have to have control in excitable situations, maybe that's not it at all right now. Maybe we're not excited enough. And guys are saying 'We should calm down' when they should be getting a little more intensity."

They should be getting a few more shots on goal, as well. One of the Leafs' infuriating tendencies is to pass up the obvious shot in an attempt to get the open-net, tap-in.

Doesn't happen very often.

Until they sort it all out, the Leafs will have to deal with their collective anxieties as best they can. Soon enough, maybe when they talk about back-to-back goals, it won't mean one this week and one next week.


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