Leafs work on cutting down giveaways

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:32 PM ET

TORONTO - Short of tying the puck on a string or zapping players with a long cattle prod from the bench, Ron Wilson must keep on his Maple Leafs to be less sloppy with the puck.

Another nine giveaways against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday, Mike Komisarek’s leading to the back-breaker in the 2-0 loss, brought the Leafs up to 221, highest in the National Hockey League as of Sunday morning. Buffalo and Edmonton are tied at 204 for second most. It’s a near 2-to-1 ratio of unsafe disposal at the Air Canada Centre compared to the road, and home is where the Leafs meet the Dallas Stars on Monday night.

While the defence is getting charged with most of the giveaways on paper, there are forwards failing to get in position to receive the puck that’s adding to the problem. Hence, Wilson started Sunday afternoon’s practice with a long session of crisp passes with players in close proximity. The Leafs also did some hamburger-type drills to recover loose pucks through hard work.

“Guy aren’t making (giveaways) for selfish reasons or anything like that,” claimed centre Tim Brent. “It ends up being a bad thing, but it’s not something that’s a conscious decision.

“When we’re playing our best, we’re a simple, effective team, not turning pucks over at blue lines. We’re getting pucks out, and getting pucks in. Nice short passes, instead of going 30 feet across the ice or 80 feet (length wise). We have to go just nine or 10 feet and make two or three of those. It’s really frustrating to play against when (other) teams do that.”

Brent agrees that the lost possessions often result when the punchless Leafs’ offence gets neutralized 5-on-5 and tries to get too creative. When the Leafs beat the Devils 3-1 on Thursday, they scored first, got in a nice rhythm and surrendered the puck just five times. But impatience set in Saturday at the Bell Centre after the Habs pulled ahead by one in the second period.

For the line of Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri and Phil Kessel, the first two men with no goals in a combined 11 games, the blind or home-run pass is getting to be a dangerous temptation.

“It’s trying to do too much when things aren’t working,” Bozak said. “A lot of us are taking things into our own hands and trying to make something work for itself. Obviously, you work to support each other and when we’re not, we give it away.

“(Sunday) we did a lot of battling and support drills. We have to get away from the one-on-one game.”

Some of the best advice on the topic came from an unlikely source. Second-year goaltender Jonas Gustavsson has had some wild puck moving epsiodes of his own and is trying to modify his approach.

“I’m new to this league and I want to keep it simple,” Gustavsson said. “I try to keep it as safe as possible. I try to give it to the first guy I see and let him do the work. That’s the key for us, just do your own job, even if you want to help out, because it could end up being the opposite.”

There could be one lineup change for the Leafs, pending the condition of winger Fredrik Sjostrom’s lower leg. He took a hard shot killing a third-period penalty on Saturday and skipped practice.

The shot blocking stats for Toronto are much more to Wilson’s liking, 10th in the NHL with 289. Defencemen such as Luke Schenn have been human pin cushions of late, making key plays.

“I saw the big bruise on Freddy after the game,” Gustavssn said of his fellow Swede. “He’s a great guy and hopefully he’s ready for (Monday). That’s the way we have to play, sacrifice and help each other and the results will come.”


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