Leafs ‘are going to have to learn’ how to win

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:46 AM ET

TORONTO - The explanations, like the losses, are starting to wear thin.

A game the Leafs could have, should have, might have won got away with 13.1 seconds left and included in the misery was a blown 2-0 lead and more. The mild collapse came on a ragged night of hockey against a tired, uninspired team, one that hobbled into town on a five-game losing streak.

“We’re a young team and we’re going to have to learn,” goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere said of the latest unacceptable result. “You don’t go from 29th to the playoffs right away.”

No kidding.

Not when barely one line is producing on offence. Not when you can’t close out a struggling divisional rival at home. And certainly not when you are a team showing a sudden and familiar aversion to winning.

GAME ON

With the second shootout loss in a row, the Leafs have dropped eight of their past nine, a rotten streak rivalling the worst runs of the past few seasons. “We’ve got to be way better than that,” defenceman Luke Schenn said. “It stinks for sure. To give up that late lead is unacceptable.” ... Centre Mikhail Grabovski finally broke through with his first goal of the season (and first in 21 games). While Ron Wilson is happy with his play, the Leafs coach is considerably less pleased with the so-called top line of Kris Versteeg, Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel, which was held goalless and had few serious chances all night ... “They are not producing offence,” Wilson said. “Their effort’s a little off. I’ve got to get the Bozak line going.” ... Though they were outshot 31-25, you never got the feeling the Leafs were in danger of losing until Buffalo’s Jochen Hecht tied it with 13 seconds remaining ... Wilson on Kessel and Co.: “They’ve got to work to get open.” ... Email from a frustrated Leafs supporter minutes after the game: “Being a Leaf fan is becoming a job.” ... About what you would expect from a pair of teams who were a combined 0-for-9 entering play, this was as ugly a game as has been seen at the ACC this year with zero atmosphere in the building ... Maybe the Leafs feel his positives outweigh this, but Grabovski can still get soft away from the puck. At least on his goal — on a shot from the point — he was hustling back on defence.

ANXIOUS ARMY

Think injured Leaf Colby Armstrong is anxious to return? Behind us in the press box, the feisty forward was as demonstrative as anyone in the ACC ... Armstrong, by the way, was seen in a walking cast. Wilson said he’s recovering from a small fracture on his foot as well as the finger injury that has sidelined him for the past five games ... Typical of the Sabres’ struggles this season, on Grabovski’s goal, Jordan Leopold created a turnover with a bad giveaway. And then, Rob Niedermayer went off the ice with a broken stick, creating space for the Leafs ... Sure looks like Sabres defenceman Tyler Myers is suffering from a sophomore sickness. He often seems lost and is now a disconcerting minus-11 on the season. As a confident rookie on a better team, he finished plus-13 last season ... Schenn logged a whopping 27:05 of ice time, the second-most in his career, and made a number of strong plays. The tentativeness that hurt him often last season seems long gone ... On Derek Roy’s first Buffalo goal, however, Schenn was caught out of position, taking away the chance to knock the Sabre on his rear ... Tomas Kaberle, who had two horrendous giveways earlier in the first, helped keep the puck in the zone for the opening goal ... Towering Leafs D-man Korbinian Holzer played it safe in his NHL debut, taking short shifts and staying away from risky play. And he certainly didn’t look out of place. “He was never overwhelmed,” Wilson said of the strapping German, who logged 12 minutes and 46 seconds. “He’s big and strong and handled the speed pretty well.” ... Let the wolves at this one — former Leaf Viktor Stalberg, dealt to Chicago in the Ver­steeg trade, scored the shootout winner for the Blackhawks on Saturday night.

OVERTIME

Over my left shoulder in the Foster Hewitt Gondola, Harry Neale. Over my right, Bob Cole. For years they worked together on Leafs games. Now Neale works for Buffalo television and Cole rarely gets assigned to Toronto contests on Hockey Night In Canada ... Sign ‘em up: During a TV timeout, Hockey Hall of Famer Ted Lindsay was interviewed in-house at the ACC and talked about old-school truculence in the Original Six NHL. “If someone got you dirty, you didn’t have to get him back that night. You had 13 more times to get at ’em.” ... The Leafs sometimes can go overboard with the lame pre-game ceremonies but the Hall of Fame edition isn’t one of them ... Hey, at least the Marlies are winning. A 3-0 victory over Texas on Saturday night has them 2-0-1 on their lengthy road trip.


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