Life at home no fun for Leafs

BILL LANKHOF -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:10 AM ET

The Maple Leafs returned home last night to the waiting arms of their beloved fans, their devoted wives, family and the praise of an adoring media.

Okay, the last one depends on the final numbers on the scoreboard and last night they weren't pretty, but three out of four isn't bad.

And, then, you remember. These are the Maple Leafs, who have a home life that looks like something out of Arrested Development. Most of their accidents really do happen at home and last night it took them less than 15 minutes to throw away all the goodwill built up in two wins on the road.

"Maybe we should just wear our white sweaters all the time," said John Pohl, shaking his head at a conundrum that has puzzled media thinkers and team thinkers alike. Last year they started with 12 wins in their first 27 home games. This year it has been a nightmare revisited and last night they were so horrid when they went home the family dog likely barked at them.

Many fans didn't stick around in the third to vent displeasure. Those who did heckled general manager John Ferguson as he retreated across a catwalk from the press box to an elevator. This had disaster written over it from the start.

"We continually try to pass into traffic and try to make plays that aren't there," coach Paul Maurice said.

A failure to clear pucks by Andy Wozniewski and Matt Stajan turned into a 2-1 deficit. Mats Sundin lost a draw in his zone that led to Alexander Ovechkin's goal. The game wasn't 15 minutes old and Vesa Toskala had been chased. Toronto trailed 4-1 and with the team headed on the road for the next four games, it was lucky to get out of town without being tarred and feathered.

"I can't put my finger on it," Wozniewski said of the Jekyll-and-Hyde routine.

A visit to Toronto is becoming an NHL player's sure-fire cure for a scoring drought. Five Capitals got their first of the year. Matt Bradley scored short-handed. Early in the third period a plaintive cry of "Lets Go Raptors" wafted through a largely silent, sullen arena.

"I hate to say this because you want to win every game," Pohl said, coming as close as anyone to finding a reason that makes some sense. "But at home we really, really want to win every game for our home fans and there's so much pressure. Fans get on you and you start to press and you want to win even more and then it backfires."

That shouldn't happen to professionals. Getting booed is one thing; reacting to it is another.

"Maybe we're more relaxed and laid back on the road," Pohl said.

"I don't understand it," Alex Steen said. "We can't allow teams to come into our building and do this to us."

But they do -- and always it is followed by discussion that the Leafs have a tougher time at home than any other team because of the demands from fans and the media.

If it is true then this team's professionalism must be called into question. True, the media is omnipresent but it is far from hostile and not nearly as invasive as its New York cousin. The Leafs are not the only pro athletes from whom excellence, or at least competence, is expected.

But only in Toronto can absence, like having eight of the next 13 games on the road, make the hearts of fans grow fonder and be seen as an opportune time for the team to move up the win column.


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