The Leafs have lost their way

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 3:09 PM ET

OTTAWA -- This is where the Maple Leafs are right now.

Pistol-whipped by their coach in the press and by their opponents on the ice, the Leafs are in the hinterlands.

They bear no resemblance to the team that eliminated the Ottawa Senators four years in a row.

The Leafs are without depth, without dynamic leadership and without game-saving goaltending. They only thing they have going for them is the blue.

Last night, after the Leafs had been strafed by the Senators, Leafs coach Pat Quinn tore a strip off his team.

The glory of hockey is that it so often speaks to character. No other game takes such hard work and none highlights the lack of it quite so acutely.

The thing that made the pre-lockout Maple Leafs so formidable was resiliency.

When depleted with injuries, those teams responded with superior play from Mats Sundin and determined work through the roster. The Leafs were at their most dangerous when they had been cornered.

Last night, Quinn reached for Mariusz Czerkawski against the likes of Jason Spezza and Wade Redden, and what a reach it was. Czerkawski scored, but the Leafs were outshot 34-14 in the first two periods and then Belfour, like everyone else, collapsed.

In the thick of it, with the Leafs skating by rote into the penalty box in a night that gave the Sens a staggering 11 advantages against six for the Leafs, Belfour gave up goals on three consecutive shots and surrendered five shots on seven goals. Six of the Sens eight markers were power play goals.

"There were a couple tonight that were dipping and diving, whatever, that I could have got," said Belfour, who looks as fallible as his teammates.

Quinn said he never considered yanking Belfour, even in the second intermission with the Sens leading 4-1.

Blame for a debacle, incurred after a four-day break, can be spread across the roster, he said.

"There's a guy (Belfour) who has done the kind of work on the ice he has done for a long time getting bombarded out there. You hope you have the kind of quality that starts to pay attention to what their jobs are."

Quinn particularly was incensed by the Sens' second goal.

Leafs defenceman Bryan McCabe made his way to Bryan Smolinski, who was being tied up in the corner by his defence partner Tomas Kaberle.

Smolinski was happy to whip the puck to Mike Fisher, who had time to deke Belfour, look disconsolately on his crumpled form, and shovel the puck into the net. The rest of the bunch, including veterans Sundin and Darcy Tucker, were miles away.

"That second goal still frosts my butt," Quinn said. "We're in the game. It's still not bad ... we got guys just go for a skate."

"They want to play easy right now. Maybe they think they're pretty talented but I don't give a damn if you're talented. If you don't want to work and won't accept the responsibility to battle for a puck or hold your position or play a little bit of defence, then you're not going to win hockey games and that's the way we are right now."

Sundin, meanwhile, prefered to focus on the penalties.

"The parade to the penalty box went on for 60 minutes. Eddie had a strong game, he did it by himself but after that it was too much."

The Leafs have one win over their past five games.

Sundin, their best player, has one goal to show for his past eight games.

There are no lieutenants, no successors to the Gary Roberts or Joe Nieuwendyks to constitute a complimentary second wave.

THANKS FOR NOTHING

Wade Belak contributed by all but impaling the Senators Chris Neil with a slash to the groin.

That helped.

The defence is a hodgepodge, the goaltending, statistically at least, below average since Belfour has lost five straight.

There's only one thing of which we can be sure.

You can't blame Mariusz Czerkawski.


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