Time to right ship

Leafs defenceman Bryan McCabe kept his sense of humour yesterday as he faced the media. (Sun...

Leafs defenceman Bryan McCabe kept his sense of humour yesterday as he faced the media. (Sun Media/Craig Robertson)

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:10 AM ET

The main culprits were ordered to assemble at centre ice, but judge Paul Maurice didn't exile anyone to the Ex to join the Marlies.

"We talked about what we've done wrong, that there always will be breakdowns in any game," Pavel Kubina said of the defencemen-only meeting yesterday during a closed practice at Lakeshore Lions Arena. "But we're making stupid mistakes (on top of that)."

The Leafs will get to apply two days of methodical zone coverage this evening against the Florida Panthers, after blowing leads in two consecutive games that crumpled team confidence.

"Paul just told us to believe in ourselves," defenceman Andy Wozniewski said. "We've played some highly offensive teams lately (Ottawa twice, Buffalo, Carolina and Pittsburgh) and that's part of the reason the goals against is up (4.04)."

While the switch is definitely turned on for offence at almost four goals a game, the "switch-off" in the Leafs zone is causing Maurice nightmares. Swifter clubs have the Leafs defence and back-checking forwards running around like headless chickens.

"We're trying to sort things out with our bottom three guys (two defencemen and the centre)," Maurice said. "We're getting hurt in the switch-off. You can't put a defenceman in front hard and fast, because if the other team cycles, you'll never catch them."

Captain Mats Sundin was a minus-4 against the Buffalo Sabres on Monday, in large part because he was having trouble communicating with the defence.

Whatever happens this evening, expect some changes in the roster in the coming days. Winger Alexei Ponikarovsky was cleared to play tonight after missing three games with an ankle injury, while silent prayers of thanks are going out for Saturday's anticipated return of centre Kyle Wellwood and defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo.

Both have been on the shelf since early in training camp, with complications from off-season surgical procedures. A spot opened for Ponikarovsky because Boyd Devereaux continues to experience pain from a cross-check suffered last week. He'll be out another week in Maurice's opinion.

Wellwood is the projected No. 2 centre, though Nik Antropov's play at that position has been a pleasant surprise.

"It will be easier for us to fit in Kyle because it's a 12-man (forward) rotation," Maurice said, noting Wellwood could be used strategically for power plays or other offensive situations at the start. "Carlo is more difficult."

But few of the six defencemen distinguished themselves the past two games and more flubs tonight would give Colaiacovo a great chance to jump back in Saturday against the Chicago Blackhawks. As much as Bryan McCabe has felt the backlash from fans and media and Tomas Kaberle is a minus-4, worst on the blue line, it's conceivable Maurice could hook the more error-prone Kubina.

"I'm trying to improve and I've got to better," Kubina said.


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