Inconsistency killing Leafs

Maple Leafs fans wear bags over their heads during the third period of their NHL hockey game...

Maple Leafs fans wear bags over their heads during the third period of their NHL hockey game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers in Edmonton on Wednesday, Dec. 30. (REUTERS/Dan Riedlhuber)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:34 AM ET

CALGARY -- Perhaps the answer is as plain as the occasional scowl on Ron Wilson's face.

When the Maple Leafs are seeking explanations for their drastic reversal of form from one game to the next, how about a reality check: Perhaps they're just not that good.

"(Wednesday) in Edmonton we got fancy, we thought we were a better team than we were," Leafs assistant coach Tim Hunter said yesterday after the Leafs practised at the old Corral, the original home of the Calgary Flames, who they will face tomorrow night.

"The challenge is for our guys to realize their identity. (To score) we have to get pucks to the net and create scramble situations. That's our game plan. When we get away from it, we are very, very average."

The team's go-to scorers have been mediocre recently, one of the big reasons the team can't seem to make a sustained push into playoff contention. Their top four goal-getters have been as cold as these Alberta nights with just three goals between them in their past seven games.

There has been enough excitement about the fact that the team was just three points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference prior to last night's games, a credible achievement given their brutal start.

The more sobering stat, however, is that the Leafs have hit the halfway marker of the season with just 37 points. That has them on pace for 74, which would be their worst output in almost two decades.

Most maddening is the fact that the Leafs can turn in a superb effort as they did in Sunday's 4-3 win over the Stanley Cup champion Penguins then follow it up with a clunker, such as Wednesday's 3-1 loss to the Oilers.

"Since my time here, we've been a really up-and-down hockey team," defenceman Ian White said yesterday. "Maybe the times when we are really good, we play a good couple of games in a row and we let our guard down against a team that's not as high in the standings and they seem to take it to us."

Which speaks to Hunter's point, of course.

Given their struggles the past two seasons, the Leafs have no grounds to get overconfident, even if the opponent is a wounded one like the Oilers, who snapped a seven-game losing streak with the win.

"I just think we've got to keep playing hard and show consistency as a team," the Leafs' first-line centre Matt Stajan said when asked what the team needs to do to make a meaningful run for the post season in the second half.

MORE OFFENCE

"We tend to take a period off here or there and it costs us some hockey games. As a team, we've got to find a way to score more goals consistently."

While the Leafs aren't exactly deep in snipers, most of those relied on to provide offensive punch have gone missing of late. With no goals in his past nine games, Stajan admits he has to pick it up, but by no means is he alone.

In fact, the top four Leafs goal-scorers are struggling. Nik Hagman has just one goal in his past nine as does Alexei Ponikarovsky. And when Phil Kessel scored late in the loss to the Oilers, it was his first goal in seven.

"There has got to be a lot more consistency in our game," Leafs defenceman Mike Komisarek said. "We can't have an effort like we did in Pittsburgh then come out as flat as we did in Edmonton. There's not going to be any easy points, any easy games. Nothing is going to come easy for us."

As they head into the second half of the season, the Leafs aren't good enough to think otherwise.

ROB.LONGLEY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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