Capital calamity for Leafs

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- There were a few guys flying around in blue and white who hoped Cliff Fletcher got the cable guy to hook up Leafs TV in time for last night's game.

Others with less to brag about were counting on him watching Celebrity Apprentice, while Alex Steen and newcomer Darryl Boyce were in the trainer's room with significant shoulder injuries long before a 2-1 loss to the Capitals had concluded.

Fletcher stayed in Toronto to hold a second extended day of meetings with hockey and business personnel, getting better acquainted with this challenging project. A 40-minute snoozer perked up in the third period with a Boyd Devereaux goal and a hint of a sweep of the Caps, but the undermanned Leafs eventually ran out of gas.

The show didn't exactly help the interim GM's evaluations, but he must be getting some better impressions than the gloom and doom that pervaded earlier in the week. Toronto is 1-1 under Fletcher and 4-3 in its past seven games, with all three defeats by a goal and the Leafs coming close on all counts with a sixth man at the horn. They're hardly setting a playoff pace, but not looking like a writeoff, either.

"We're starting to lose some key contributors," coach Paul Maurice warned, splitting the hard-hitting home-and -home with the Caps. "Alex is not nearly as bad as Alexei Ponikarovsky (who dislocated his shoulder on Wednesday), but he won't be ready when we come back next week. Darryl looks more significant (a suspected separation)."

Fletcher is expected to return to Phoenix during the all-star break to collect some belongings; he and his wife having jetted directly to Toronto from their Mexican vacation on Tuesday when he replaced John Ferguson as general manager.

Perhaps he can try to sneak a quality defenceman or scoring winger through customs, given the need for a horse and a game breaker in those respective departments. Defencemen Andy Wozniewski, Ian White and Pavel Kubina are not looking as lost as some recent games, but it was Woz's man who got away in front for the Caps' first goal.

And there was some gnashing of teeth on the bench as the Leafs let another five power plays lapse and couldn't convert what their forechecking turned over.

Long-term injuries to Ponikarovsky and Mark Bell, the benching of Kyle Wellwood and arrival of farmhands such as Boyce is additional food for thought as Fletcher assesses what's here, what's on the Marlies and what might be kicking around the league for a low-risk price.

"It won't take long for him to get up to speed," predicted Pittsburgh Penguins assistant GM Chuck Fletcher, who followed his dad into the business and watched last night's game at Verizon Center. "We spoke on Tuesday and I'm really happy for him. I know Calgary was where he spent most of his career, but Toronto will always be special for him, an Original Six team, where he was able to turn things around quite quickly."

Don't expect a major move yet, since Fletcher hasn't had his sit-down with Mats Sundin, checked into any of the talk that Darcy Tucker is coveted out west or if Tomas Kaberle will be the Leaf who will be ultimately sacrificed at the Feb. 26 trade deadline.

There seems to be no urgency to NHL trade talk at the moment. Even those teams actively seeking help, such as the Vancouver Canucks, have been frustrated. Believed to be one of the most interested parties in Sundin, they've been shopping former first-round defenceman Luc Bourdon around the league of late, seeking a centre.

"There are no deals out there," GM Dave Nonis told the Vancouver media. "I think everyone is somewhat frustrated."

Devereaux had the lone Leaf goal last night, but on the very next shift, Tucker's failure to clear eventually led to a big Vesa Toskala rebound and Viktor Kozlov's game winner.


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