Take it to the net -- Wilson

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:41 AM ET

It is an all-too-common condition this time of year and when one overindulges, it most often comes at a price.

But who knew scoring goals in bunches would have the same negative effect as downing holiday grog at a rapid-fire pace?

"You get drunk on your success," Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson said after his team's practice at the Air Canada Centre yesterday when asked about his team's feast-to-famine scoring ways. "We had scored 18 goals on the road trip and it almost seemed too easy. How did we score goals? We went hard to the net. We just have to reset and start over."

With the drunk comes the hangover and in the Leafs' three-game losing streak they have been outscored 16-4, a trend they will attempt to reverse when the Atlanta Thrashers come to town tonight.

Complicating the task, the team kicks off a four-game homestand without its leading scorer, Matt Stajan (nine goals, 21 assists), who could be out for up to three weeks. Stajan suffered an eye injury in a freak accident after being struck with a soccer ball in a pre-practice informal warmup session in Washington this past weekend.

The scoring woes are the most obvious sign of a lack of consistency that has been symptomatic of this young team's growth under Wilson. Prior to scoring four goals in their past three games, the Leafs poured in 18 in their previous three.

"That's the habit of a mediocre team, mediocre teams aren't consistent," Wilson said. "Mediocre is when you are around .500. That's not where we want to be, but that's the reality of it right now."

At least the up-and-down Leafs have shown they often bounce back from poor efforts. Providing they stick to their strengths -- keeping the heat on opposing defences and making plays with their speed -- they generally have been able to keep losing streaks from getting out of control.

In fact, scoring has been one of the pleasant surprises this season. With 111 goals in 36 games, only four Eastern Conference teams had more prior to last night's play.

The Leafs had won five of six before their three-game losing streak.

Wilson and the coaching staff emphasized attacking the net during much of yesterday's practice, getting back to what has worked thus far.

"When we were scoring goals, we were doing certain things," forward Jason Blake said yesterday. "Shooting the puck on the net is one. Establishing a forecheck ... obviously with our speed it helps create offence. But we've gotten away from that in our last three games.

"We've got to get back to the simple things."

An extended homestand could help, starting tonight with the Thrashers, a team the Leafs handled 6-2 on Dec. 22. Next up is the Sabres on New Year's Day, followed by the suddenly lowly Ottawa Senators on Saturday and the Florida Panthers next Tuesday.

As for Stajan, the freak accident caused a condition known as hyphema in his right eye.

The setback couldn't come at a worse time for the first-line centre, who was enjoying a career year and likely won't return for two weeks at the earliest.

"I'm trying to take it day to day," said Stajan, who wasn't on the ice yesterday. "I can't really do any strenuous activity because of the blood flow through the eye. We don't want any re-bleeding because that could cause a lot of damage and maybe surgery.

"You've got to be cautious the first week, then go from there."


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