November 9, 2010
Leafs fire blanks against Lightning
By LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
ST. PETERSBURG -- From his front row seat in this nightly theatre of flops, Jean-Sebastien Giguere had seen enough.
He watched his Maple Leafs give one of their most first-period passive efforts in a game that was supposed to show the team gave a damn about ending their five-game losing streak and weren't just all talk. What the veteran goalie witnessed instead on Tuesday night was a 5-on-3 wasted, almost double their 28 shots get blocked or miss the net and bad exits from the zone.
The explosive Lightning made them pay with what evolved into Toronto's worst loss of the year, a 4-0 defeat at the St. Petes Times Forum. The Leafs are now on a six-game slide (0-4-2) and 1-6-3 since winning four to start, during which Toronto has squeezed out only 15 goals.
Coach Ron Wilson was surprisingly restrained, but Giguere did the carve job this night.
"In the situation we're in, you need to see some desperation out of the guys, some competitiveness," Giguere said. "We're not seeing that. I don't understand why. We're a young team, we have legs.
"There's nothing given in this league. It's a tough league, especially on the road, You have to show up ready."
Wilson sounded like he was reserving judgement until Wednesday, when the Leafs play the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, in what shapes up as a more winnable game compared to facing Steven Stamkos and the surging Bolts.
"Maybe when we're a little more tired, we'll be thinking heads on straight," Wilson said. "We have to find a way to get out power play going. When you don't score on a 5-on-3, it's depressing."
But if general manager Brian Burke can't make trades, he has to be looking at the Toronto Marlies, who came to life with a 3-0-2 road trip that including a 4-0 win over Hartford Tuesday night.
What colour the Leafs' first line wears in practice isn't an issue anymore if no red light is turned on during games.
All those zeroes the whole team is posting on the scoreboard and under the win column are the greater concern.
Stamkos scored twice and is on pace for something like 70 goals. Meanwhile, Tyler Bozak was looking skyward as the centre on the most snake bitten line when Dan Ellis stopped him twice in the second period.
"It wasn't a happy moment," said Bozak, who is stuck on two goals. "You want to spark the guys when you have an opportunity like that."
Toronto was handed a door prize in the form of marginal penalties to Stamkos and Nate Thompson barely two minutes in. But not only did the struggling line of Phil Kessel, Bozak and Kris Versteeg not strike it rich, Stamkos scored on his power-play chance and Thompson followed up.
Stamkos opened fire from his prime launch area to the right of Giguere and while that shot is virtually unstoppable no one got in the lane. It was a case of lazy clearing by Tomas Kaberle and Colton Orr in the Leafs' end that led to goals by Thompson and ex-Leaf Dominic Moore.
Wilson had vowed he wouldn't tinker with Mikhail Grabovski's line, but had to do something at the start of the second and flipped Versteeg at left wing with third-liner John Mitchell.
Wilson sensed what he was in for in the morning as he went over a list of Lightning players he considered the most dangerous, led by Stamkos, Vince Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis. All figured on the first Tampa goal.
"When they're all going, it's a very dangreous group of forwards," Wilson said. "In fact, it's six guys you have to worry about. Some guys maybe haven't put up the numbers they did last year, but they're dangerous.
"I'm not going to screw up what has been our best line the last two weeks (Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur) to get another line going, then have another line slide. You watch one line and it's 10- or 15-foot passes and the other (Bozak's) is spread out on the ice and not being effective. The message is support the puck like the Grabbo line and you guys should be, with your abilities, more effective."
Wilson also says he wants to give the 5-6 pairing of Brett Lebda and Korbinian Holzer more ice as he completes the reassignments in the wake of the Dion Phaneuf injury. Holzer did well, but it was on his first NHL penalty that Stamkos gave Tampa the lead.
Tampa coach Guy Boucher's team just came back from a four-game trip and now hits the road again, where they'll be frequently until mid-December. The next time the Leafs are here in January, it's part of a 12-game homestand.
"It's not pretty," Boucher said of the road trip. "We know this is our toughest stretch. You look at the schedule and it's a little scary, but it's a good time to get the adversity in.
"Right now we want to get out of this jungle alive."