NEWARK -- The Maple Leafs were caught between The Rock and a hard place last night, while a fed up Paul Maurice threatened to dynamite his power play.
Deep gloom pervaded their dressing room last night as a hard-fought two points in the new home of the New Jersey Devils slipped away in the final five minutes, a 3-2 loss.
"I like the way we started ... It's as close to an identity game as we've played all year," coach Maurice said.
But then he came around to the power play, which has looked immersed in quicksand at times this year without some of last season's key personnel, and clicked for just seven goals in 63 tries. On the fourth chance, with an opening to break a 1-1 tie late in the third period, Jason Blake missed on a shot, then couldn't hook up with Tomas Kaberle to stop a breaking John Madden from beating Vesa Toskala with a perfect glove-side shot.
"We're just going to dismantle it," Maurice declared. "It wasn't winning us games. Now it's costing us games. We're too deliberate in everything. There's no motion when you don't feel good about it. Now it's a lot of holding the puck and standing around.
"(New blood) can't hurt. It was our second unit I liked the most tonight."
Zach Parise made it 3-1 97 seconds after Madden's goal before Mats Sundin, scored with the man advantage and 32 seconds to play.
Sundin should be the power play's ringmaster with Blake and Alexei Ponikarovsky, while Kaberle and Pavel Kubina man the points. The unit is without Bryan McCabe, Darcy Tucker and Kyle Wellwood, all injured.
Sundin and Kaberle were a little startled to hear of Maurice's threat to use second- and third-liners with the man advantage. But after last night, they could offer few alternate solutions. So there could be a lot of Nik Antropov, Alex Steen and Matt Stajan tonight, perhaps with other guest stars such as Boyd Devereaux or Simon Gamache.
"Power-plays and penalty killing are important, and if they don't produce for 10 games you have to do something about it," Sundin said.
"It's up to the coach," Kaberle said. "Everyone will want to play hard for two minutes out there."
Kaberle could have played Madden better as he steamed down the left side, knowing the East York native is one of the most opportunistic penalty-killers in the NHL. But Kaberle did pull his stick away to allow Toskala a clear view of the shot.
Other than that, the Leafs did atone for a 7-1 loss to Washington on Monday by holding Jersey to nine shots in two periods, scoring midway through the game on Steen's nifty toe drag around Vitaly Vishnevski and deke of Brodeur to tie the score 1-1.