Leafs take a step back

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:18 AM ET

Berate his Maple Leafs or give them a day off?

With his club continuing its plummet in the Eastern Conference standings thanks to a seven-game losing streak, coach Paul Maurice did neither yesterday and his players were happy with the work he set before them.

After putting the club through some puck movement drills at Lakeshore Lions Arena, all bets were off as the players were divided into two sides and went at each other in games of three-on-three.

"That's what I tell my son all the time, just throw the puck out there and stop worrying about everything and have some fun," Darcy Tucker said. "I don't want to say we were giddy, but we took a step back and played a little no-holds-barred."

Said Kyle Wellwood, "It was fun to go play a pond hockey game."

FUN

Only Michael Peca, who suffered a bruise on his right hand during a 5-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings Saturday night, was not on the ice. Maurice said he did not expect Peca would practise today, either, but thinks the Leafs' top defensive player will be in the lineup tomorrow night at home against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Maurice also refused to say whether Andrew Raycroft, who was pulled after 40 minutes against Detroit, or Jean-Sebastien Aubin would be in goal. Whether that was a hint Aubin would get his second start in three games will be clearer today.

Had the Leafs won in Detroit on Saturday, or even been close instead of giving up five power-play goals, they probably would have been off yesterday. The Leafs have not had a day off since Nov. 26.

But Maurice does not believe that giving the players a day to get away from it all would have a positive effect right now.

"When things are not as smooth as you would like them to be, it is important to be around each other," Maurice said.

"You need a mental day off and a physical day off, but when you lose tough games, it is important to be here, spend some time with each other and not get too far apart."

Maurice then chose his words carefully when he talked about pressure his players face with the mounting losses. It was clear he does not expect many people to have sympathy for men who make hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, to chase a piece of rubber around the ice.

"I don't think people necessarily appreciate sometimes the stress the players are under," Maurice said. "And listen, I know it is a game and I know it is hockey, and not life and death. But they are performers and they perform in front of crowds and they have high expectations, especially in this market.

"It can't be the heel of your boot every day."


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