Dennis leads fight to stay positive

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:17 AM ET

Next to the goalies, the busiest man on the Maple Leafs today must be Paul Dennis.

The club's long-serving player development coach has helped turn around many slumps and guide the Leafs, Marlies and junior prospects through many troublesome off-ice issues. But an eight-game losing streak has clouded the Leafs' fishbowl -- "There is so much negativity around us," winger Alex Steen said -- and many people in the organization are on edge.

"This is a first for a lot of us," said Dennis, a Toronto-born sports psychologist and member of the American Psychological Association. "But my role doesn't change. I'm always available to talk and be supportive of everybody; coaches and players.

"I have ongoing discussions with a lot of players. I can't divulge anything other than that. But I think it's a remarkable, emotionally resilient group. I think they're holding up pretty well.

"As long as everyone continues to do that and be supportive and encouraging, this will turn around."

While no one expected the Leafs to kick butt in Ottawa during a terrible two-game series, there was quiet confidence the Leafs would rebound at home last week. But a good start against the Buffalo Sabres came unglued after two deflections past goaltender Ed Belfour, while the Montreal Canadiens struck twice in 35 seconds to usurp a Leafs lead on Saturday, eventually winning 4-3 in overtime.

Mikael Tellqvist, the losing goalie on Saturday, torpedoed his own cause with a clearing pass behind his net which Montreal's Tomas Plekanec whacked out of the air and centred for a goal. Head coach Pat Quinn called it a one-in-a-hundred fluke, but typical of the Leafs' luck, having been preceded by a deflection off of Steen's skate.

"I had good wood on it, but (Plekanec) picked it off," Tellqvist said. "It's just small things that go against you when you're struggling and the team is struggling.

"But there's nothing you can really do about it. (Swedish tennis ace) Bjorn Borg used to say: 'Just look forward to the next point.' That's a good lesson for me as a goalie. No one was happy with my performance (Saturday), but today is a new day."


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