Shootout woes a Hab-it

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:40 AM ET

Paul Maurice has been able to solve some Maple Leafs ills early in the season.

The shootout still needs some work.

The Leafs, who were 3-7 in shootouts last season, last night lost 3-2 to the Montreal Canadiens in the throw-a-football-through-a-hoop competition to decide the match after no one scored in overtime.

Months after the 2005-06 season ended, some Leafs still lament the points they did not earn in shootouts helped them miss the playoffs by two points.

Mats Sundin was the only Leaf among four who beat David Aebischer. Kyle Wellwood was stopped, and both Darcy Tucker and Alexei Ponikarovsky hit the post. Chris Higgins and Michael Ryder scored for Montreal. Saku Koivu lost control on a deke and Alexei Kovalev also hit the post.

"We have to practice our shootouts," Wellwod said. "We have to get better. You get an extra point and we are letting too many slip by (including last year)."

The Leafs lost another young defenceman. Andy Wozniewski left with a shoulder injury suffered on his first shift of the game and later Maurice said it was serious. Wozniewski is the fourth young defenceman to go to the sideline, joining Carlo Colaiacovo, Staffan Kronwall and Brendan Bell.

Jay Harrison stands a strong shot at getting into the lineup tomorrow night when the Florida Panthers visit.

Wade Belak could slip back to the blue line, but Maurice has liked him at forward.

Last season, the Leafs scored just four times in 24 shootout attempts, tied for fewest in the NHL. Maurice had a quick answer when asked how he guards against a confidence swoon in such situations.

"By winning enough games so the shootout doesn't matter," the Leafs coach said.

"It is a factor if it is allowed to be.

I've got confidence in the guys that we used."

Tucker and Matt Stajan scored in regulation. Sheldon Souray and former Leaf Mike Johnson, who got the tying goal early in the third period, scored for the Canadiens.

Maurice was happy with the work ethic, and the Leafs did go hard for much of the night. But he might try putting a flashing neon sign above each net at practice today. Toronto was credited with 38 shots, a total they reached just five times last season.

On top of that statistic, though, were the 25 shots the Leafs fired at Aebischer but instead missed the net. If that happens often, the Leafs won't win much.

"We have to find a way to put the puck in the net better," Tucker said. "We're much improved at putting the puck at the net."

Aebischer was at his best in overtime, when teammate Sergei Samsonov was off for hooking.

He stopped the Leafs six times, including a point-blank save on Bryan McCabe.

The 26-year-old Raycroft was going to try to put the shootout behind him, despite the fact he did not actually stop any of Montreal's four attempts.

"Shootouts are hard on the goalies," Raycroft said. "It was a an exciting game. Ryder made a good shot (on the clincher). What else can I say?"

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REPORT CARD

B- Forwards: Coach Paul Maurice went with three lines for much of the night. At even-strength, the trio of Matt Stajan between Jeff O'Neill and Darcy Tucker was fairly effective.

B- Defence: Many nights in the NHL are not easy with a full group, let alone five. But the Leafs got by after Andy Wozniewski was hurt and the Canadiens did not have a ton of scoring chances.

B Goaltending: Andrew Raycroft made some big saves late in the third period to keep his teammates in the game.


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