Crowning insult in L.A.

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:04 AM ET

LOS ANGELES -- The Maple Leafs are in tatters today with reason to think they won't come home from this horrible road trip with the same group that arrived.

What began as a string of close losses last month has became a California landslide the past two nights, outscored 10-2, with one stop still to make in San Jose.

Some kind of change, either up top or on the ice, is needed to stop the bleeding, before they can even think of improving, never mind eighth place.

In addition to Earthquake, Towering Inferno and every other disaster movie set here, you can add film of last night's 5-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings. We aren't talking the Wayne Gretzky model, but the last-place team in the league, coming off a 7-0 loss to Nashville.

Andrew Raycroft was burned for four goals in the first period, his defence pushed around like ragdolls. As for coach Paul Maurice changing lines, re-uniting Mats Sundin, Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky had all the effect of re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

The tormented Raycroft was playing behind a team that had little confidence in him and less in itself. Maurice settled for putting Vesa Toskala in after one period, no doubt second-guessing himself for not using his No. 1 when wins -- any wins -- are so vital. The Leafs have lost 10 of the past 12 and only Tampa Bay and L.A. are cushioning them from last overall.

By the fourth Kings goal, general manager John Ferguson must have been on the horn trying to intercept the Marlies bus somewhere in the midwest and get Scott Clemmensen back. By the end of the second period, he'd departed his perch at the Staples Center press box probably for a 'pep' talk before returning in the third period. Meanwhile, team president Richard Peddie must be contemplating long-term changes.

After losing 5-0 the night before in Anaheim, the Leafs trotted out the tired bromide that playing back-to-back was the best cure. But they're now 1-5-1 on the reverse end of 48-hour action, outscored 18-5 in the past four instances.

Maurice prides himself as a motivator, indeed, he was seen as the perfect tonic two autumns ago for those who'd grown complacent under Pat Quinn's laissez faire system.

But his own methods must be examined as the Leafs have two goals or less in six of the past seven games.

The ballooning GAA should stabilize once Toskala gets back in a groove, but the way an over-extended defence are playing right now, they're in no position to offer him support.

Maurice has to stop the disappearing act of many forwards, After 101 goals in the team's first 32 games (a 3.16 average a night), the Leafs wheezed their way to just 20 goals in their next 12. Maurice's patience did snap to a degree with Kyle Wellwood by sitting him two games and it's time to call out a couple of others.

Antropov scored his first goal in almost a month last night and Alexei Ponikarovsky has melted, leaving Mats Sundin to fly solo.

Big ticket wingers Jason Blake and Darcy Tucker have a combined 13 goals and when Maurice re-assigned the productive unit of Matt Stajan, Alex Steen and Boyd Devereaux to perk up other lines, there was a collective drop in production.

Maurice said before last night's game that he's reluctant to get heavy-handed.

"Getting the guys to go is my job," he said. "We need the players we have.

"You keep going. You keep changing (lines), you get in their ear, you keep pumping their tires, you kick 'em in the shins."

But at some stage, do you scratch them?.

"You can take out a high-profile player and put in a (raw) kid, but it's not going to help you win," he said of the limited shock value.

The Marlies have no point-a-game prodigies on the farm, though emerging plus-18 centre Darryl Boyce signed an NHL contract last week.

For last night's game, Maurice looked ready to go back to the drawing board with his forward groupings, re-uniting Sundin with Antropov and Ponikarovsky. Ditto for the Stajan-Steen duo, who hooked up with Blake. Wellwood, whose early season injury was cited in Tucker's slow start, was back with him and left winger Chad Kilger, whose one goal in 17 games is another open wound.

Devereaux was being the good soldier again, trying to get something going with fourth liners Tlusty and John Pohl. His reduced numbers speak in part to the difficulty of being in constant line flux.

"You could say that because (he and Stajan and Steen) were going well," Devereaux said. "But when things aren't going well you have to move them around. It's up to us to deal with it."


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