Have Leafs bought into Maurice yet?

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:53 AM ET

It's hard to fathom this notion that, at the NHL level, a coach would have to grab his team by the lapels to get them to compete, but then, sometimes a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.

Paul Maurice may be a baby-faced 30 something, but his Maple Leafs have learned over the last couple of days, if they didn't realize it before, that beneath that schoolboy exterior is a core of tempered steel.

They may have seen flashes of that iron will previously but in the wake of the Leafs' pathetic showing against Ottawa on Tuesday night, they got the full monty yesterday. Given the right motivation, Maurice can be as subtle as a belch.

At the end of the first period Tuesday on their way to a 6-2 loss, the Leafs' intensity level was flattered by a scoreboard that read Ottawa 3, Toronto 0, and Maurice vented his spleen in the locker room. Yesterday morning at practice, he was barking like a drill sergeant throughout a brisk, hour-long workout.

And just so the players know, Maurice acknowledged that he has another gear left.

"They haven't seen that yet," he said. "We're still at the mild stage."

You have to hope that Maurice is right in his assessment that this isn't a talent issue but one of motivation. The alternative explanation for a game where they were so thoroughly outclassed is that they simply are not good enough. That theory, by the way, is still up for discussion.

It was difficult not to get a sense of skill disparity watching the Senators dominate. We all know Ottawa has not exactly sprinted out of the gate at full gallop this season but the Senators certainly were flying Tuesday.

The wretched Toronto defencemen looked like they needed some warm scarves to prevent catching their deaths of pneumonia from the draft created by the fleet Ottawa wingers blowing by them, left and right.

But defence also is a team responsibility and the Leafs' backend got little support from the forwards. And poor Andrew Raycroft in net? He was the only reason the score remained respectable.

It is more than a little ironic that now the Senators have established that their false start was just an aberration and it is the Maple Leafs who must prove to their fans, but mostly to themselves, that they are not the imposters they appeared to be on Tuesday.

"Sometimes the point is felt more at home against a rival than it is out on the west coast in a 10:30 (p.m.) game," mused Maurice, in explaining the shock value of such a poor performance.

"You walk away and don't feel the loss. You can make your point easier sometimes when it's more painful."

Oh, this was painful all right. Certainly, the coach had his players' collective attention yesterday.

"We all have to get better," said defenceman Bryan McCabe, whose play, to put it mildly, was brutal on Tuesday.

"(Tuesday night) was unacceptable from all of us and we know that. We went back to work today, worked hard and hopefully it will carry over (to tonight)."

Before practice, Maurice sat his team down and force-fed them the taped evidence of the night before, an X-rated movie if ever there was one.

"Everyone saw their mishaps from last night and that's how you learn," said McCabe. "We have to compete harder."

So, just as Tuesday's game was a test for the Senators -- a test they passed with flying colours -- tonight is a test of the Maple Leafs' mettle. It's also an early test of just how strong a grip Maurice has on his room. We're guessing, very strong.

Maurice knows that the shock factor of the average tongue-lashing has a short shelf life as a motivational tool. He'd rather that his players 'get it' on the first try.

"Question is how long does that last?" he asked, rhetorically. "It's not a matter of whether you get your point across. It's a matter of how many times do I have to make that point?"

If he's right about the character and the talent and the resolve within his hockey club, the results should be evident tonight.


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