Time for Leafs to change?

Maple Leafs defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo might miss tonight's game with a leg injury that has been...

Maple Leafs defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo might miss tonight's game with a leg injury that has been bothering him since March 13. (Sun Media/Stan Behal)

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:01 AM ET

A stable of fresh horses is awaiting its turn to help the Maple Leafs playoff drive, but whether the riders dare to swap mounts in the stretch drive remains to be seen.

Tantalizingly close to eighth place, general manager John Ferguson and coach Paul Maurice are torn between loyalty to the core lineup -- that has rallied in the past from such debacles as the 7-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Sunday -- or using some of the four spares with the team.

Ferguson, who has not been linked to any controversial lineup meddling with his coach to date, also has had four American Hockey League callups to use since the NHL trade deadline passed.

On one hand, the GM can point to the Leafs' record of 9-4-3 in the game immediately following a loss by three or more goals and no losing streak beyond three games since early February. But the team that put a premium on fitness in September has let some big leads get away of late and looked out of gas on Sunday against the Rangers. That was the last of four in six nights, leaving them three to play, starting tonight against the Philadelphia Flyers at the ACC.

After nine games, captain Mats Sundin continues to squeeze his stick in a vain search for any goal, never mind tying Darryl Sittler's franchise record. Defensive coverage was a joke in many cases on Sunday in New York, combined with one of goaltender Andrew Raycroft's poorest games. Defenceman Bryan McCabe was a minus-5 and Carlo Colaiacovo, who might be pulled tonight against the Flyers because of a leg injury that has been a problem since March 13 in a game against Tampa Bay, was minus-4.

But Ferguson is his stoic self these days.

"It was an exceptionally tough night across the board in New York, so no one was on the right side of the ledger," he said yesterday.

"Bryan plays a lot and when you're in almost 27 minutes of a 7-2 game, it's hard to have good numbers. Mats continues to produce for us in many ways. Goals are just one thing he does and we've had scoring depth all year.

"This week's games (against the Flyers, Islanders and Canadiens) are part of the challenge. The wins we've had after some big losses is a good trait, indicative of the resilience we have."

The Leafs' understudies at present include antsy 20-goal scorer Jeff O'Neill, Travis Green, whom Ferguson acquired in January during an injury crunch, beefy defenceman Andy Wozniewski and pesky Kris Newbury. Mike Peca, nearly recovered from a broken leg, still is a question mark for any hockey beyond Saturday.

Ferguson said he and Maurice don't take lineup decisions lightly, especially this week.

"We treat every game with equal importance," he insisted. "That will not change now."

The full nature of Colaiacovo's injury likely won't be known until today, but he had a scary moment Sunday when slew-footed by Petr Prucha of the Rangers.

The Flyers are last in the NHL, but the Leafs had better work themselves into a playoff-type froth again.

"We can't look past them," Raycroft said.

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CAPTAIN'S ENIG-MATS-IC SWOON

Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin is in a scoring funk, with no goals in the past nine games and just one in 17. But his workload hasn't stopped:

DATE OPP. ICE TIME G A SHOTS +/-

Feb. 26 @ Mtl 20:33 0 2 6 E

Feb. 27 Buff 20:38 0 0 1 E

March 2 @NJ 23:01 0 1 8 E

March 3 Buff 21:49 0 1 5 +1

March 6 Wash 17:58 0 0 6 +1

March 8 @ Ott 18:02 0 0 0 -1

March 10 Ott 22:08 0 2 11 E

March 13 TB 19:44 1 1 5 +1

March 16 @ Wash 20:35 0 1 3 -1

March 17 @ Mtl 20:31 0 0 6 -2

March 20 NJ 19:12 0 2 3 +1

March 23 @ Buff 23:24 0 1 3 E

March 24 Buff 16:55 0 0 2 E

March 27 Car 20:14 0 0 6 +1

March 29 @ Atl 20:14 0 1 5 +1

March 31 Pitt 23:07 0 2 7 -1

April 1 @ NYR 16:56 0 1 4 -1


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