January 18, 2010
Inconsistency plaguing LeafsToronto badly in need of solid leadership
By ROB LONGLEY, QMI AGENCY
In a perfect world, young players would learn the ropes from veterans who would instil in them the significance of leadership and consistency.
It is far from a perfect world around the Maple Leafs these days, however, which has created no shortage of frustration from the top of the organization to the bottom.
One night, they look like a team going somewhere, shutting out the Phiadelphia Flyers 4-0.
Less than 24 hours later, they are run out of the rink in a 6-1 loss to the Washington Capitals.
So what gives, beyond the obvious disparity in talent the Leafs have compared to good teams? If coach Ron Wilson is going to dish out blame at this point, he seems willing to save the larger heapings for those with the experience to know better.
“Common inconsistency,” Wilson said after Sunday’s practice at the Mastercard Centre, when asked about the struggles of his veterans. “These guys, at times, have to be more determined and appreciate life in the NHL. Sometimes they forget.”
Those comments continued a theme from Friday when Wilson openly questioned the mental focus certain unnamed veterans lacked as Caps star Alex Ovechkin danced around them on the way to a career-high five-point night.
With Game 50 of the season on Monday night in Nashville, the Leafs season is rapidly approaching write-off status. They currently have 61 points, three fewer than at the same point last season. And while the playoffs are technically within shouting distance, such talk is falling on deaf ears.
The Leafs were nine points out prior to Sunday action, but four of the five teams between them and the final playoff spot have games in hand. They are on pace for an underwhelming and, by any measure, underachieving 69 points, 12 fewer than last year.
Why such little hope? A big reason is the lack of consistency bothering Wilson.
In November and December, the team occasionally could string together a few good games. Lately, not so much.
The Leafs have lost five of their past six and have just four wins since Dec. 14. Even the garbage points from overtime losses are fewer and far between with a gap of 11 games since that last happened.
“We have a really good week followed by a poor week,” Wilson said. “We’ve got to find a way to keep the down weeks from getting as low as they do.”
These days, the least reliable element is on offence. The Leafs have been held to two goals or less in 12 of their past 15 games and the veterans relied on to score have been shooting blanks.
After a brief period of production, Jason Blake is back in a slump. He is without a goal in his past seven, following a 12-game drought earlier.
Then there is Nik Hagman. The Finn has flatlined, despite leading the team with 16 goals. He hasn’t scored in 11 and has just one in his past 17.
“You’ve got to be consistent in this league,” said forward Phil Kessel, who has been getting his chances but has just one goal in his past 15 games.
“We want to get there. I think we’re close, but it’s just not happening for us. One of these days, it’s going to start to turn.”
But when? Next up is the continuation of a five-game road trip which starts with a tough Predators team before moving on to Atlanta, Tampa and Florida. For a team with such erratic tendencies, it’s tough to call it a make-or-break trip, but it’s getting close to that point.
“It’s a team game, it doesn’t matter who makes the mistakes,” said defenceman Francois Beauchemin, who isn’t necessarily one of the veterans Wilson is calling out.
“It’s between our ears. We’ve got to be sharper mentally.”