Leafs get too cutesy against Lightning

Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Luke Schenn (2) pressures Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Ryan Malone...

Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Luke Schenn (2) pressures Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Ryan Malone (6) behind the Toronto net during the second period of their NHL hockey game in Tampa, Florida November 9, 2010. (REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:01 PM ET

TORONTO - In the end, a 60-minute game was decided by 45 seconds.

Forty-five horrific, frustrating seconds if your name is Ron Wilson.

Almost every day in practice, Wilson puts his Maple Leafs through a power-play drill where bodies congregate in front of the net while the point men pump pucks into the goal mouth area.

In hockey terms, it’s known as KISS — Keep It Simple Stupid.

Judging by the Leafs’ bumbling early on in Tuesday night’s 4-0 loss to the host Tampa Bay Lightning, it’s obvious these players are not members of the KISS Army.

With the Leafs carrying the play in the opening couple of minutes, the visitors suddenly found themselves with a two-man advantage for 45 seconds early in the first period.

Here was their opportunity to get off to a good start. Instead, they didn’t even register a shot on the 5-on-3.

Sure, Kris Versteeg and Tyler Bozak were planted in front of Lightning goalie Dan Ellis. But they never saw the puck. Their teammates were too busy attempting to make cutesy plays along the perimeter instead of simply directing it into the so-called “dirty area” where Bozak and Versteeg were set to pounce.

Zero shots. Zero goals. Brutal.

Minutes later, the Lightning, having survived its early penalty problems, struck for two goals in 29 seconds, pretty much squashing the Maple Leafs’ hopes for the evening.

Wilson certainly must be held accountable for his team’s free fall, one in which it has just one regulation-time victory in its past 10 games. But in this instance, the fault lies solely with the players for not heeding the advice of the coaching staff when it comes to keeping things simple on the power play.

And if the players aren’t listening to what they are being told, well, that opens up an entirely different can of stinky worms, doesn’t it?

WHERE’S THE BEEF?

The group of smurfs playing centre for the Leafs certainly make up the Achilles heel of this team ... That’s not to say Bozak, Mikhail Grabovski, Tim Brent and John Mitchell don’t have talent, but they collectively do not boast the size or the strength to regularly muscle their way to the front of the opposition net ... And if you can’t do that, how are you supposed to gobble up rebounds and get those “ugly goals” that so dominate the sport these days? ... Indeed, Toronto’s lack of beef up the middle is being exposed on a nightly basis ... Memo to Brian Burke: Where’s the truculence? Where’s the team you figured was going to be so hard to play against? We saw none of that Tuesday, other than Mike Brown pounding on Nate Thompson early in the second ... In fact, we’ve seen little of those qualities in the past 10 games ... Yes, the absence of the injured Colby Armstrong and Dion Phaneuf hurts, but surely these are not the only two players on the squad who bring sandpaper to the table.

WHERE’S PHIL?

Phil Kessel has now gone six games without a point, tying his longest drought as a Leaf ... His funk equalled the one he went through from Dec. 19-27, 2009 ... How about this from former Leaf assistant GM Bill Watters who, during Sportsnet’s post-game show, claimed that Kessel “doesn’t give a damn about anyone but himself.” ... Wibur has never been shy to speak his mind ... Kessel has not registered a point since he was mocked with chants of “Thank You Phil” by Bruins fans on Oct. 28, a reference to the fact that the trade that sent him to Toronto eventually landed Boston Tyler Seguin.

HOMETOWN HEROES

How delicious must this outcome have been for Steven Stamkos and Dominic Moore, both Toronto-area kids who cheered for the Leafs? ... Stamkos, who scored a pair of goals, is buddies with the sons of Leaf play-by-play man Joe Bowen ... Prior to the 2008 draft in Ottawa, Stamkos told the Toronto Sun that Bowen had provided him with a game plan. “Mr. Bowen said I should not go up on the stage no matter who calls out my name until the Leafs pick me.” ... No such luck. The Lightning took him first overall ... As for Moore, who scored Tampa’s third goal, he grew up north of Toronto with Doug Gilmour souvenirs sprinkled over his bed room walls.

LAST MINUTE OF PLAY

The Leafs have been shut out three times in the past two weeks. Ouch ... Management had better hope the apparent hamstring injury suffered by goalie J-S Giguere early in the second period isn’t one of those nagging issues that lingers for weeks ... Bozak looked like a beaten man when he shook his head in disbelief after being robbed twice by Ellis late in the second period.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


Videos

Photos