January 27, 2006
One of those nights for Leafs
By AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun
When you're a fragile team -- which the Maple Leafs are at the moment -- life is never as easy as it used to be in happier times.
Pucks go in your net off your own players. Opponents fall down when your stick is near them and you get called for tripping. Even when you outplay the opposition, it doesn't show on the scoreboard.
After last night's game, an 8-4 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, the Maple Leafs can tell you all about it.
It was not a game devoid of entertainment. It was loaded with brilliant plays -- and some stupid ones. It had pretty goals and missed golden opportunities. It had power-play goals, short-handed goals and fluke goals.
But in the end, the Leafs saw their losing string pushed to seven -- and they've lost eight of nine.
It was not a night of good fortune for the Leafs, but it often seems that when you're in a losing streak, nothing goes right.
As coach Pat Quinn said afterward, "People push. You see mistakes you don't ordinarily see in situations that seem simple."
And you see dumb plays too -- ones that you simply can't accept in these difficult times. There were a number of them but the worst was probably made by Tie Domi.
It was early in the second period and the Leafs were trailing 2-1. Domi was knocked off the puck in his own end by J.P. Dumont who then went to the net. Domi picked himself up, charged Dumont and tackled him, earning a minor.
While he was off, Brian Campbell gave the Sabres a two-goal lead. Still reeling, the Leafs allowed another goal only 10 seconds later and suddenly, the Sabres were up 4-1, a hole from which the Leafs were never fully able to extricate themselves.
It was not from lack of trying. The Leafs could easily have folded the tent right then. They didn't.
They could have folded it again when they battled back to make it 4-3, only to see the Sabres score 39 seconds later.
They didn't. They kept coming at the Sabres, even though they were even more short-staffed on defence than they had been when the game began as a result of the loss of Aki Berg to a rib injury.
As Sabres defenceman Jay McKee said, "I thought they were playing real well. They just kept coming.
"They always do that. When things aren't going well and you're struggling a bit with confidence, you just have to play desperate and that's what they were doing. They never gave up. It's a credit to them."
After two periods, the Sabres led 5-4. But early in the third, they scored a power-play goal. After that, they cruised.
"I thought that we had tightened up a bit," explained McKee. "We had a long talk after the second. We were opening up a little too much.
"When you have a lead like that, (things) start to happen. Players blow the zone a little bit early. With them coming as hard as they did, that's why they were getting chances.
"I think when we got the go-ahead goal in the third it hurt. I know. I've been on the other side of it. It's a little deflating when you're coming, coming, coming, and all of a sudden, you're down by two again."
The type of funk in which the Leafs find themselves is certainly not without precedent. As McKee said, he has been through it a few times himself.
"We've been where they were (last night)," he said. "We've been that team that's picking away trying to get back in there, and when you get that two-goal deficit, its a letdown."
The Leafs had battled back twice during the game. They came within a whisker on a couple of occasions, but couldn't do it a third time. That's what happens when you're going through a bad stretch.