Five reasons for five losses

Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Andrew Raycroft makes a save on teammate Thomas Kaberle during practice...

Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Andrew Raycroft makes a save on teammate Thomas Kaberle during practice in Toronto yesterday. (Toronto Sun/David Lucas)

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:08 AM ET

Crisis? What crisis?

For all of you a bit long in the tooth out there, you'll recognize that as the title of a popular Supertramp album from the mid-1970s.

It was also the message being passed on by Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice yesterday while addressing the team's five-game losing streak.

"It's not a (crisis)," Maurice said. "This is the first stretch of growing pains we've had as a team."

Judging by the way Darcy Tucker was hammering his teammates and cursing out the joint at practice yesterday, he certainly can feel the pain associated with these hard times.

It's easy to point at goaltending as the scapegoat -- the Leafs entered play yesterday ranking just 22nd in the National Hockey League in goals against. But Toronto's struggles run much deeper than simply wagging an accusing finger at Andrew Raycroft and backup J-S Aubin.

As the Leafs prepare to face the Boston Bruins tonight for the fifth time in a month, here are some of the factors that have contributed to the recent free fall.

THERE SHE BLOWS!

No lead, it seems, is safe anymore when it comes to the Leafs, who have exhibited an alarming penchant for coughing up advantages in the third period.

The disturbing trend dates much further back than this five-game losing streak, too.

In the team's fifth game of the season, the Leafs were up 6-3 over the host New Jersey Devils after the first 40 minutes, only to squander the advantage when Brian Gionta scored a natural hat trick. The Devils then completed the collapse by the visitors by winning 7-6 in the shootout.

Three weeks later, the Leafs peppered Habs goalie David Aebischer with 51 shots, yet surrendered a 4-2 lead in the third. Only a Kyle Wellwood shootout masterpiece allowed them to escape that Oct. 28 encounter with a 5-4 victory.

During their return to Montreal last Saturday, they were not as fortunate, belching up a 3-1 lead in the final nine minutes en route to a 5-4 shootout loss.

Tuesday's breakdown -- one that featured five consecutive third-period goals by the Atlanta Thrashers -- may have been the worst. Players were reeling from the 5-2 loss and cited a lack of confidence afterward.

"Obviously, we've struggled, blowing leads in the third against Montreal and again (Tuesday)," winger Chad Kilger said yesterday. "Obviously, we're a little fragile."

For the record, the Leafs have been outscored 15-2 in the final period during this five-game swoon.

POWER-PLAY PAINS

What happened to that much-heralded power play that scored an NHL-leading 106 goals a year ago?

Having gone just 3-for-26 with the man advantage during their current losing streak, there has been nothing special about this special teams unit of late.

Opposing clubs have adapted their defensive tactics whenever shorthanded against Toronto. They are trying to take away Bryan McCabe's point shot and the cross-ice feeds to Darcy Tucker, Toronto's two favourite power-play tactics.

Tucker did score on a nice one-timer versus the Thrashers Tuesday, but others have to step up too.

"We know what they like to do (on the power play). We watch the highlights," Buffalo Sabres goalkeeper Ryan Miller said recently.

SIN BIN BLUES

It's not just the number of penalties the Maple Leafs are taking, it is the poor timing that is involved.

The Leafs have been shorthanded 21 times in the past three outings, including three delay-of-game penalties to rookie defenceman Ian White for flipping the puck over the glass. He was sitting in the penalty box when the Habs' Saku Koivu tied the game 3-3 on Saturday.

Maurice suggested White might have to sit and think about those mistakes, but it would be a tough call to take the talented young blue-liner out of the lineup.

HE SHOOTS, HE ...

Shooting hasn't been a problem for the Leafs.

Shooting the puck accurately certain has.

During the course of this skid, the Leafs have outshot the opposition 168-139, yet have been outscored 20-7.

Alex Steen has scored once this season. Alexei Ponikarovsky has one goal in the past 11 games. And Chad Kilger has lit the lamp once in his past 24 outings.

Little wonder the Leafs have won just once when scoring fewer than three goals in a game.

HOME-ICE HORRORS

Those fans in the swank platinums who dress up as empty seats prior to each period finally have a reason to stay bunkered in their private boxes this season. Toronto is just 6-7-2 at the Air Canada Centre, giving all the stockbrokers little incentive, if any, to leave their cocktails behind and show their faces in the stands.


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