January 7, 2011
Former Leafs fall short
By LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
TORONTO - Alex Steen had some frustrating nights in Toronto in his 253 games as a Leaf, from prolonged slumps to weekly razzings from Don Cherry on Coach’s Corner.
But as many predicted, Steen is doing much better in a less hockey-centric environment on the banks of the Mississippi. He scored his 14th goal of the season against his old team on Thursday to get more than halfway to last season’s career-best 24 goals. He added another goal in the shootout.
Steen and fellow Leaf survivor Carlo Colaiacovo and former draft pick Brad Boyes are keeping their injury-riddled team in the playoff hunt, while the Leafs are still far out of contention.
But Thursday night was a glass half-full, half-empty scenario as the Blues failed to break a fragile Leaf team when it was down. With 1:25 to play and needing one more goal to complete a four-goal comeback for the regulation win, Steen hit the crossbar.
“We had some chances in OT and it would have been nice to come back that way,” Steen said. “But I don’t think we should have put ourselves in that hole in the first place.”
By the late stages of the game, the Leafs had chased Jaroslav Halak from the net with four goals on 19 shots, and it was journeyman Ty Conklin who gave them fits in the third, and then in the shootout stopping Phil Kessel on Toronto’s first attempt. But the loss was pinned on Conklin.
“The one I want back is probably Kris Versteeg’s,” said Conklin of an innocent looking shootout attempt that picked the corner and kept the Leafs alive.
The Leafs, meanwhile, have now won three straight shootouts, remarkable for a team that has been bled badly by the overtime format since its inception in 2005.
In a hole
The Blues spent much of Thursday’s game trying to erase two and three-goal deficits, including a gift goal to Kessel.
“Vladimir Sobotka’s got the puck on his stick,” coach Davis Payne said of the doomed play. “And (Kessel) is the wrong guy to (give) the puck between the faceoff circles headed toward out net.
“We feel good about making sure we got ourselves back in the fight. Even when it went 5-2, we felt if we just stick to the system, we’d get our chances.”