Leafs defence can't rest

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:56 AM ET

When Francois Beauchemin watches video of the Maple Leafs' first two games, he must wonder who the hell is that defenceman wearing No. 22.

"This is not my type of game," the former member of the air-tight Anaheim Ducks said of being on the ice for eight of the 10 goals against the 0-2 Leafs in power-play and even-strength situations, and being minus-4 overall. "I have to be a lot better."

Many teammates are saying the same after Saturday's 6-4 loss in Washington, coupled with letting a 4-3 overtime loss to Montreal get away. General manager Brian Burke and coach Ron Wilson aren't likely to do anything rash, but they were keen observers at yesterday's Marlies' opener, while giving plenty of thought to starting Jonas Gustavsson in goal tomorrow against the Ottawa Senators.

BACK-LINE WORK

But before roasting Vesa Toskala and his .800 save percentage after four periods, there's work to be done on the back line. It was thought to be an improved department after Beauchemin, Mike Komisarek and Garnet Exelby arrived, joining NHL all-rookie team member Luke Schenn and a returning Tomas Kaberle. But there have been adjustment issues.

"When you get a couple of free-agent guys, they might be trying a little too hard to do too much," Wilson said. "Washington plays a certain type of game with long passes and they have the skill to do it. But after five minutes (down 1-0 just 77 seconds in), we were trying to hit home runs, too, instead of 10- to 15-foot passes.

"I think they'll settle down on their own. When you're on the ice for as many goals as a couple of guys have, they don't need me hammering on them. They have to simplify their game, but they're not the only ones."

Beauchemin pleaded guilty on Saturday.

"I made some bad decisions at the blueline, trying to keep pucks in, pinching a little too much, not reading the play well," he said. "I believe in this group and I know we'll get a lot better than this."

Indeed, after a promising start when the Leafs won six of nine exhibitions, the Beauchemin-Schenn shutdown pairing has been burned repeatedly.

"We're still learning off each other," Schenn said.

Komisarek, who shares the alternate captaincy with Beauchemin, pointed to some positives in Saturday's final period.

"When we were cleaning up our zone and breaking out, we were spending less time in our end, creating chances and we capitalized on (three) goals," Komisarek said.

Wilson put Jeff Finger into the lineup for Exelby and the latter led the team with five hits, also setting up an Alexei Ponikarovsky goal that sparked a third-period rally.

"Best part of the whole thing," agreed Wilson of the concluding 20 minutes, starting with Gustavsson's perfect period. "We came out determined not to let any goals in."

LANCE.HORNBY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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