Focus, focus, focus ...

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:26 AM ET

Pat Quinn wants his Maple Leafs to start thinking about thinking properly.

With the Leafs in Denver to begin a tough slate of four consecutive road games tomorrow night, the coach is concerned about the players' willingness to let their minds wander during games.

"The mental toughness part in my opinion, knowing how to play with leads and exercising discipline (are a concern)," Quinn said after practice yesterday at Lakeshore Lions Arena. "We need to keep on working on playing in the situation -- knowing what is going on and being sharp and aware."

Along with Eric Lindros (wrist) and Darcy Tucker (ribs), defenceman Bryan McCabe did not go west. Though McCabe's groin injury originally was to keep him out only on a day-to-day basis, he has missed two games.

"It's a bigger problem than what we initially thought although I don't have any time line on (McCabe's return)," Quinn said. "It is not day to day. We hope that he gets ready by the weekend."

Wade Belak was absent with a suspected case of food poisoning, but he was to make the trip.

The Leafs would have spent yesterday relaxing with their families had they not blown a 3-0 lead in a 4-3 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes the previous night. Rather than give the players the day off before a flight last night to Colorado, Quinn had no choice but to get them back on the ice. The Leafs will play in Minnesota against the Wild on Wednesday before returning home for two days. Then it's off to Ottawa for a two-game set in the nation's capital. Leafs fans need no reminder what usually happens in those games.

It's imperative the Leafs gather some points against Joe Sakic, Marian Gaborik and Daniel Alfredsson. Toronto is in sixth place in the Eastern Conference with 51 points. The Atlanta Thrashers, Tampa Bay Lightning and New Jersey Devils are within whispering distance.

A bad run before they play their next home game, Jan. 26 versus the Buffalo Sabres, could drop the Leafs out of a playoff spot. Toronto has lost its past two.

"We can't afford to lose five in a row," Jason Allison said. "We want to get out of this trip above .500, and get three out of four or all four. Every trip is key. It's so tight (in the Eastern Conference)."

It's nice the players realize that. But if they continue to daydream as they did against Phoenix, they'll be left behind. Exposing the Leafs' mental deficiencies, the Coyotes scored 16 seconds apart in the second period and 13 seconds apart in the third period.

"In the second period when they scored that second goal on the rush, I don't think our guys knew that it had gone from four-on-four to five-on-four because we got ourselves way out of position," Quinn said. "That is the mental part and we have to get better. We are just not good enough.


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