Candid Maurice can be costly

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:54 AM ET

Paul Maurice was asked the other day if his Leafs were officially into a skid.

Given that Toronto had picked up a mere six points from its previous nine games -- two of those points coming from overtime losses -- it was a legitimate question.

In his usual quick-witted way, Maurice took the question literally.

"The back end has come loose a little bit," he said. "I'm not sure if we're going sideways yet. But we're still on the road."

Don't look now, Paul, but that ditch is coming up awful fast. You may want to give that steering wheel a little tug. Maybe a big tug.

Toronto's losing streak reached five games in a row on a night when they were massively outplayed and spent far too much time in the penalty box.

And for that the Toronto coach might have himself to blame. See, Maurice was also asked another question on Monday and last night he may have paid dearly for his honest answer.

Maurice had been asked about the moving target that is the standard of enforcement in the NHL these days. Anyone who has been paying attention the past few weeks has seen a relaxation in the zero-tolerance for obstruction fouls and Maurice agreed. It wasn't a rant, just an acknowledgement of the obvious.

"There's a lot more allowed than there was three, four weeks ago," said Maurice. "We'll all continue to adjust."

BIG MISTAKE.

Maurice and his Leafs paid the price last night for being so candid on a subject that the league office is extremely sensitive to. Referees Gord Dwyer and Dean Warren called the letter of the law last night and the result was a steady parade of blue shirts to the penalty box. By night's end, the Leafs had been assessed 10 minors, Atlanta just four.

For two periods, Toronto weathered the storm of Atlanta power plays, outshot by 29-10 over those 40 minutes, yet managed to hold on to a 2-0 lead they had built in the first period.

The second period in particular was a disaster waiting to happen for Toronto. They spent 10 minutes killing penalties and managed only three shots at Atlanta goalie Johan Hedberg, two of them from centre ice.

Meanwhile, Leafs goalie Andrew Raycroft was getting himself vulcanized at the other end, but it wasn't until early in the third period when finally he was beaten -- you guessed it -- on another Thrasher power play.

A few moments later, Vyacheslav Kozlov tied the score, then delivered the coup de grace with 8:33 remaining to give Atlanta a 3-2 advantage. Marian Hossa later made it 4-2 on a semi-breakaway.

Raycroft, who had stopped the first 30 shots, gave up the four goals on the next six shots. The last Atlanta goal was scored by Ilya Kovalchuk into an empty net.

Maurice had to learn the hard way, the same way Pat Quinn did, that it doesn't pay to talk about the officiating, especially when the league office is in the building next door. Last year, Quinn got so paranoid about the repercussions that he would not even listen to questions about officiating, let alone answer them.

For two periods the Leafs looked as if they might pull off the theft of the season but reality hit hard in the third. They are well and truly into a horrible skid and showing few signs they are about to come out of it.

They have a tough schedule coming up with road games in Boston and Detroit, followed by Tampa Bay at home, then Carolina on the road, then the Rangers at home.

A five-game losing streak could very quickly turn into a 10-gamer if this team doesn't soon rediscover its intensity and its confidence.

A lot of bad things can happen when the rubber hits the road.


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