Kessel, Lupul need to improve their D

Maple Leafs forwards Tyler Bozak (left) and Phil Kessel (right) congratulate Joffrey Lupul on his...

Maple Leafs forwards Tyler Bozak (left) and Phil Kessel (right) congratulate Joffrey Lupul on his goal against the Senators at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ont., Jan. 17, 2012. (FRED THORNHILL/Reuters)

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:26 PM ET

TORONTO - Apparently there’s a third certainty in life, besides death and taxes.

And that is ... if you dare criticize Phil Kessel or Joffrey Lupul, on Twitter or in print, Leafs Nation goes bananas.

Which is fine. Fans are allowed to wear blinders and blinkers and whatever. But it’s a living, breathing reality that whether it’s Tyler Bozak or Tim Connolly at centre, Kessel and Lupul end up running around in their own end far too often, pretty well every game, sometimes with disastrous results, as was the case on Tuesday in a 3-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators in the Battle of Ontario.

Two Ottawa goals were scored with Kessel and Lupul on the ice. (Originally the game summary had them on for all three Ottawa goals, but that was changed afterwards). Yes, the dynamic duo broke out on Tuesday offensively, picking up points for the first time in four games, as Lupul scored on a great set-up by Kessel. But they have to work on their defensive game in their own end. If they don’t, this Leafs team will miss the playoffs once again.

Kessel and Lupul are not there for defence, but they have to be much more responsible in their own end. That’s why, even as they sit near the top in NHL scoring, their plus/minus rating isn’t great — Kessel has 49 points in 45 games but is only

plus-1, while Lupul, who has 48 points, is a plus-3. Against the Sens, they both finished the game a minus-1.

GAME RAMBLINGS

Rookie defenceman Jake Gardiner made his return to action after being benched the past four games, and looked impressive, finishing the game a plus-2, with three blocked shots. Not that Gardiner was playing poorly before the DND’s started piling up. He was looking tired. When he’s not fatigued, he brings an offensive touch the Leafs blue line which has been missing since — dare I say this — Tomas Kaberle in his prime ... James Reimer had a chance to show Ron Wilson that he is still in the mix as the club’s No.1 goaltender, but he dropped the ball against the Senators — even though it appears as though he was interfered by Jason Spezza on Ottawa’s second goal (Wilson described it as a “leg lock”). Expect Wilson to start riding Jonas Gustavsson on a regular basis, until the Monster goes in a slump. The bottom line is, neither goaltender has been outstanding for an extended period of time this season, and that’s what the Leafs need to make a run at a playoff spot. Reimer hasn’t won in his past four starts ... The Battle of Ontario is often more hype than substance, but Tuesday’s game was a hard-fought, exciting tilt, probably because there are playoff implications ... The Leafs penalty kill is now 12-for-12 over seven games. Remember when Wilson was getting vilified for that stat? ... The Leafs were out-hit 39-24 and Luke Schenn lead the Leafs with eight. Second on the Leafs was Bozak with four. Not enough hitting by Leafs defence ... Dion Phaneuf was unavailable to the media after the game because he was getting treatment, according to a Leafs media guy. But Wilson later said: “He wasn’t hurt, we wouldn’t have played him if he was hurt. He was probably pissed off.”

PRE-GAME RAMBLINGS

The Leafs have had trouble scoring, but decided to bench forward Nazem Kadri in place of tough guy Jay Rosehill. Not sure if they was a great move. Kadri doesn’t have any points in his past five games, but you can’t blame him. The young forward has made a number of great plays to set up his linemates, who failed to convert. Still think he’d be a great fit on the first power-play unit with Kessel and Lupul ... Senators goaltender Craig Anderson allowed a goal first shot, but was outstanding in the final two periods, as the Leafs out-shot the Senators 39-21.

TORONTO GUYS

Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie wears a Mats Sundin’s No.13 Leafs Jersey for his Twitter pic, while teammate J.P. Arencibia’s Twitter pic is a shot of him with the Leafs’ Tyler Bozak and Colby Armstrong, two partners of his social media group, TeamUnit ... Again, Leafs keyboard guy Jimmy Holmstrom was up to his old tricks before the Senators game, playing the song Signs by the Five Man Electrical Band — a group from Ottawa.


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