Those flip-flop Leafs

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:36 AM ET

They can't win back-to-back, get a break in shootouts and most of their forwards haven't yet produced consistently.

But the Maple Leafs are sensitive to criticism after their ninth game ended in a 5-4 loss to the New York Rangers. Eleven points in nine games is progress as far as they're concerned, compared to some of the awful starts turned in by the other teams in the Eastern Conference.

"There is a long way to go, but we're going in the right direction," said captain Mats Sundin, who was held to a point the past three games and foiled as the lead shootout participant last night. "Tonight was our third game in four nights, a game where it seemed every time we scored, they came back. Those are tough to stay in, but we dug in and had three of four points in two nights."

The Leafs' record reads as an enigmatic loss-win-loss-win-loss-win-loss-win-loss-win-loss, the first time since at least Original Six expansion that they've come this far into a season without consecutive victories or defeats.

TOO EARLY TO WORRY

"We're too early in this campaign to worry about trends," coach Paul Maurice said.

But the chance to build on Friday's 4-1 win in Columbus was there at the Air Canada Centre, until Brendan Shanahan's lone shootout goal on Andrew Raycroft.

Sundin said he let the puck get too far ahead of him on his chance and his Swedish national team pal Henrik Lundqvist was not fooled when Sundin went upstairs. Alexei Ponikarovsky tried to sell Lundqvist on the same backhand move he used on a first-period breakaway goal, but couldn't switch to his forehand. Two-goal man Darcy Tucker also came up empty on Lundqvist, who made 34 stops in all.

The Leafs are now 1-3 in shootouts this year, 4-10 since last season. That's a lot of points left to spoil on the table.

"Yes, it's a big issue," Ponikarovsky said. "But we want to concentrate on doing the right things in our game through three periods, so we can win in regulation."

Maurice sounded as exasperated as Pat Quinn at the Leafs' lack of success in the tiebreakers.

"We've done video on it, we've had people look at about 200 of the 300 shootouts in the league last year and break it down.

"We'll continue to try things (such as) changing the order."

The Leafs were 1-for-5 on the power play, with a late-game chance wasted before Jeff O'Neill's goal at 17:00 forced overtime.

Tucker's two points moved him into a tie with Kyle Wellwood for the team lead with 10. Leafs centre Mike Peca followed up his first Toronto goal on Friday with two assists.

Tucker also had a running feud with a couple of Rangers, notably Jaromir Jagr, whose two assists last night gave him 55 points against Toronto in 37 games and put him within 22 of Stan Mikita's mark of 1,467 points for a European-born player.

Nigel Dawes, Shanahan, Michael Nylander and Jason Ward also scored for New York, which had two power-play goals after Toronto went three games without allowing one.

Maurice gave plenty of ice to young defencemen Brendan Bell and Ian White, the latter getting two assists and joining Bell on the second power play unit.

"Like any job, you're a little nervous the first day, but it has been getting better each time out," White said.

The Leafs now get a double dose of the Ottawa Senators this week and then face the Canadiens at home on Saturday. By then, they would have had time to assess defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo's performance during his conditioning stint with the Marlies.

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REPORT CARD

C+Forwards: Darcy Tucker and the power play kept the Leafs in the game, and the fourth line supplied the tying goal.

D-Defence: Too much traffic in front, too many picked off passes.

C-Goaltending: Andrew Raycroft didn't get much help, but didn't come up with a regulation game-saver, either.


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