Time to shuffle Leafs

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:58 AM ET

The Maple Leafs have given coach Ron Wilson little option but to change things around halfway through this four-game homestand.

Wilson and a perplexed crowd at the Air Canada Centre were given little buzz for their buck in last night's 4-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, a stinker just 48 hours after one of the season's most stirring wins.

That goalie Curtis Joseph is going back to the end of the bench is a given, but Wilson has put out a missing persons report on his first line and could alter it by tomorrow's game against Ottawa.

"We weren't very physical," Wilson said. "I probably should have gone to our fourth line (which produced the lone goal among other chances) a lot earlier. They were better prepared than our other lines, particularly our top line and it had a trickle-down effect."

The first unit of Nik Antropov, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Lee Stempniak had 10 of the team's 28 shots, but Antropov was stripped of the puck by Jason Pominville on the back-breaking third Buffalo goal. The Leafs' top trio also had just four hits.

Antropov switched from right wing to centre when Matt Stajan suffered an eye injury last week, but John Mitchell is the plumber Wilson is considering to bump one of the top wingers.

Mitchell ended his two-month scoring drought last night with a third-period goal on Ryan Miller and nearly had another. But Wilson was getting concerned as Mitchell had bloated to a minus-10.

"He's got to get better defensively. He has to be more ready to start games," Wilson said. "He shows lots of flashes, but it's his first year. You live with some of the inconsistency. He deserves a little bit more ice time, but we'll see.

"With our first line being so flat tonight, maybe I should pop him up there and shake things up a bit. It was okay in the first period, but in the second, you're down three goals in the blink of an eye.

"If we would have broken the ice on the chances we had (an early power play, a Ponikarovsky post, a loose puck in the blue paint that Roy pawed and the missed penalty shot from Niklas Hagman that resulted), it might have been a different outcome. We didn't capitalize on our chances and they did on all of theirs."

Said Hagman: "We lost a lot of one-on-one battles. Those are things we have to do right."

Coming off his first season win in a wide-open overtime thriller over Atlanta, Joseph once again was forced to cover for too many of his mates' errors. He, too, was surprised at how far the Leafs tailed off from Tuesday.

"We've got to work on that, if not scoring, then make a big hit, or start a fight or something," Joseph said. "The last game was so entertaining. This was a night without much energy or pizzazz."

Derek Roy and Pominville each scored twice -- two coming on the power play, two on goofy deflections. But Wilson said the two-game switch to Joseph from Vesa Toskala has served its basic purpose.

"It was just a little bit of rest for him and his groin, a mental rest for a goalie who plays almost every game," Wilson said before the game.

Wilson was complimentary of Mitchell's wingers, Jamal Mayers and Ryan Hollweg.

"(Mayers') intensity is there, but unfortunately no one fed upon it," Wilson said.

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REPLAY

FOILED AGAIN

Ryan Miller stopped Niklas Hagman on a first-period penalty shot after Buffalo's Derek Roy closed his hand on the puck. It was the second time this season the Leafs have missed a penalty shot -- Matt Stajan was stopped by Chicago's Nikolai Khabibulin -- and just the second against Buffalo in their history. Paul Henderson was stopped by Roger Crozier in 1971.

FINNISH VISITORS

Vesa Toskala played host to the Ilves minor hockey team from his home town of Tampere, Finland, which is here playing a tournament in Oshawa. The kids took in yesterday's morning skate at the ACC.

JET SET TV SET

Leafs TV analyst Greg Millen made it from the Winter Classic in Chicago back to the ACC by last night's second period. Colleague Pierre McGuire did Wednesday's Canada-U.S. junior game in Ottawa, flew to Chicago at the crack of dawn yesterday and was supposed to be back in Ottawa by nightfall to be ready for TSN duty this evening.

DEJA VU

This wasn't the first time the Sabres have beaten the Leafs on New Year's Day. Buffalo whipped the visiting Leafs 8-1 in the first game of 2000.

POINT-GETTERS

Toronto G A P

John Mitchell 1 0 1

Jamal Mayers 0 1 1

Ian White 0 1 1

Buffalo

Derek Roy 2 1 3

Jason Pominville 2 0 2

Thomas Vanek 0 2 2

Drew Stafford 0 2 2

Jaroslav Spacek 0 1 1

NEXT UP

Tomorrow -- 7 p.m.; Ottawa Senators at Maple Leafs; CBC, AM 640


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