Looking to end losing Hab-it

MIKE ZEISBERGER, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 11:33 AM ET

MONTREAL -- As sheets of ice pellets pelted morning commuters here yesterday, the visiting Maple Leafs probably figured the sky was falling.

Now they know first-hand how their legion of fans feel.

You can bet the normal leather-lunged throng of blue-and-white clad Leafs supporters who shoehorn themselves into the balcony of the Bell Centre whenever Toronto comes to town will be extra paranoid tonight when the two fabled rivals meet for the 675th time in their illustrious histories.

Three consecutive losses, just two goals scored in the past 180 minutes of regulation and a fizzling power play that finds itself in an 0-for-13 funk are the ingredients for potential disaster.

But Paul Maurice's team has proven to be a resilient bunch when faced with adversity this young season, a trait they exhibited during their only other trip to Montreal. On Oct. 24 the Leafs peppered 51 shots at Habs goalie David Aebischer yet still needed a shootout to claim a 5-4 victory, snapping a two-game losing skid.

Maurice, the Leafs' first-year head coach, isn't about to panic so early in the season. At the same time, he's not afraid to shake things up and bruise some egos in order to find a winning combination either.

In the past week, youngsters such as Matt Stajan, Kyle Wellwood and Alex Steen have all found themselves nailed to the bench at various times because the coach was opting to look in a different direction.

"When there are guys who aren't going, you just have to go with the hot hands," Maurice said yesterday.

"These guys seem to bounce back pretty quickly after a loss these days, moreso than a lot of the coaches."

Captain Mats Sundin, who rolls his eyes whenever someone points out the team is 0-3 since his return from an elbow injury, centred Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky at yesterday's practice. Darcy Tucker worked with Kyle Wellwood and Alex Steen; Chad Kilger lined up alongside Matt Stajan and Jeff O'Neill; and Michael Peca centred J ohn Pohl and Bates Battaglia.

"I feel all right," Sundin said. "It still feels like I haven't played in three weeks but at least I'm getting chances."

To their credit, both Wellwood and Stajan refuse to sulk about being benched recently.

Not that they had a say in the matter in the first place.

"I haven't been at my best, but neither has the entire team," Stajan said. "We only have two goals in three games so no one on the team is scoring.

"Everyone is in a slump."

Added Wellwood: "Everyone says we need a garbage goal to get out of this. I don't buy it. I'd like to see us score a beautiful one."

The Maple Leafs can only hope someone -- anyone -- can come through tonight.


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