Gloomy Christmas for Leafs

MIKE ZEISBERGER, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 11:20 AM ET

There is no shortage of Christmas jeer around the Maple Leafs these days.

Michael Peca is recovering from potential season-ending surgery on his right leg; Nik Antropov, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Kyle Wellwood also are on the shelf; and the team has dropped three consecutive decisions after last night's disappointing 3-2 loss to the Washington Capitals at the Air Canada Centre.

Captain Mats Sundin led a late valiant attempt to erase a three-goal deficit for Toronto, but even his pair of third-period tallies could not salvage two points for the hosts.

"There has to be more of a sense of urgency," a disheartened Sundin said. "We have the talent in here to be a playoff team, but we're on the bubble.

"We haven't achieved the way we should. We have to come back from this two-day (Christmas) break and regroup."

Sundin and his teammates refused to use Peca's absence as an excuse, but it was obvious they missed the penalty-killing specialist. The Caps scored three times on the power play in the second period, putting the Leafs in a hole from which they could climb out.

Darcy Tucker took the news of Peca's injury especially hard. The two have become friends, and their sons are in the same class at school.

"It makes me sick to my stomach," Tucker said of Peca's plight. "But knowing Michael, he will battle his way back."

Wellwood missed his second consecutive game with a nagging strain of the hip flexor muscle, but could be back when the Leafs play host to the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday.

Antropov is still at least a week away, but at least his wonky ankle is strong enough for him to have started skating again.

Ponikarovsky, who separated his left shoulder after slamming into the boards during practice at Lakeshore Lions Arena on Thursday, remains about three weeks away from a possible return.

The gaggle of broken bones and strained muscles must leave Paul Maurice wondering if he is still coaching the Toronto Marlies whenever he gazes down the bench.

Five forwards in last night's Leafs lineup -- Aleksander Suglobov, John Pohl, Ben Ondrus, Bates Battaglia and Kris Newbury -- all played for Maurice's Baby Leafs last season.

With Peca going under the knife yesterday, Newbury was called up from the farm and made his NHL debut against the Caps.

The feisty Newbury is second in Marlies scoring with 30 points in 32 games.

"It was unfortunate to hear what happened with Michael," he said. "But things have to go on (from) here. I'm just happy to be here and will do whatever it takes to help this team win some games."

Capitals superstar Alexander Ovechkin didn't disappoint, scoring once and adding an assist. Alexander Semin and Dainius Zubrus also scored in the second for the Caps, who seemed to have the game well in hand.

But it was goalie Olaf Kolzig who saved the day late in the third, making a number of spectacular stops after Sundin's two goals -- one on a penalty shot -- had brought the Leafs to within a goal.

"No one in here is giving up," Sundin said. "We must keep going."

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REPORT CARD

C+ Forwards: Fired 37 shots at Olaf Kolzig, but only Mats Sundin could find the back of the net.

C+ Defence: Held Alexander Ovechkin in check for much of the night, but could not contain him in the second when he registered two points.

C+ Goaltending: Andrew Raycroft didn't have much work in the opening period but that changed in the second when he was beaten three times.


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