Desperation finds a home

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 12:25 PM ET

Paul Maurice has a New Year's resolution, aside from surviving as coach of the Maple Leafs to make a resolution for 2009, and it is to spread the wealth.

Maurice yesterday popped the cork on some new forward lines, designed to distribute scoring and thus take some heat off of his beleaguered defence and goaltending.

Mats Sundin was paired with unlucky left winger Jason Blake and young gun Alex Steen, while Sundin's usual twin tower wingers, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Nik Antropov, were with speedster Boyd Devereaux. Antropov shifted to centre.

The third line will have Matt Stajan centring Darcy Tucker and either Chad Kilger or Mark Bell on the left side.

On the fourth unit, Kyle Wellwood gets big Wade Belak protecting his right flank and Kilger or Bell on the other. The intent is not just to kick-start some slumping forwards, but to cease over-extending the reliable ones.

The Tampa Bay Lightning, with two of the top 12 scorers in the NHL, likely won't be quaking in its boots at these developments when it arrives for tonight's game.

The Leafs have lost three in a row, six of their past seven and since beating Tampa 6-1 on Dec. 10 have been out-scored 24-15.

"We're going to move some people around and get a more balanced effort, at least in terms of play against the other team's top two lines," Maurice said.

"Having just two lines doesn't work."

The timing for this shake-up is right, given the turning of the calendar, the awful post-Christmas play and the realization that less than 40 games will remain when the team heads out on a west coast trip next week.

"We didn't play well (in Saturday's 6-1 loss to the Rangers)," Maurice said in a major understatement. "We were floating, looping and taking bad penalties."

Devereaux stands to benefit most from the proposed new set-up.

The former first-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers has worked himself up from the Marlies to the fourth line last year, to ace penalty killer this season, then third line and now at least a solid second unit.

"I'm pretty excited to be with those two guys, if we stay that way," Devereaux said of the chance Maurice changes his mind today. "We'll have a couple of days to get accustomed to each other."

BIG QUESTION

The question is whether Ponikarovsky and Antropov can be successful without leading scorer Sundin or whether one or both will suffer from Jonas Hoglund syndrome.

Sundin, who didn't hit it off with Blake at the start of the year, won't have two big men doing the dirty work down low, but the captain gains in the speed and creativity department.

Outside of Stajan being within a goal of last year's total of 10, the other five have a combined 19 goals. Maurice also has Jiri Tlusty and John Pohl in reserve.


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