Leafs know next games are 'huge'

Joey Crabb (second from right) and Carl Gunnarsson (36) are pulled apart after a brief scuffle at...

Joey Crabb (second from right) and Carl Gunnarsson (36) are pulled apart after a brief scuffle at Maple Leafs' practice on Sunday. (Jack Boland/QMI Agency)

Terry Koshan, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:50 PM ET

TORONTO - With four losses in their past five games, a certain four-letter word was slipping out of the mouths of the Maple Leafs on Sunday afternoon after they practised in preparation for a home-and-home set with the New York Islanders.

“Oh, these games are huge for us,” winger Clarke MacArthur said. “We have to get this one at home (on Monday night), and then you go in to (Long Island on Tuesday) and do what you can.

“It’s a huge, huge four points for us, and we have to find a way to do it.”

One might think that the severity of the Leafs’ situation would have resulted in a better effort against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night, but that didn’t happen.

When the Leafs wake up on Monday morning, they will find themselves still in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, but now two points behind the Washington Capitals, who gained another point on Sunday when they lost in overtime against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

So coach Ron Wilson, and to their credit, the players, turned up the heat at the MasterCard Centre, engaging in an intense and physical workout. One result was a brief scrap involving off-ice pals Joey Crabb and Carl Gunnarsson, a fight that was sloughed off by those involved and Wilson before the practice was finished.

The reunion of Tyler Bozak between Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul continued, as it became clear to all observers on Saturday night that Lupul and Kessel should be together at all times, as long as they can defend properly.

But Wilson had the same message for every player he spoke to during the practice, which ran just under an hour.

“We have to get our game going, simplify things,” Wilson said. “In the past week or so, we have really tried to complicate the game at home because we are at home. We had a few good games 10 days ago, and it has led to us trying to make an extra pass, trying to beat a guy at the blue line when a simple play would be the smarter one, and that’s what we have to get back to for the next two games.”

The Leafs have to be more aggressive if they’re going to get to the post-season for the first time in eight years, and that won’t be by fighting with each other. Getting in the face of Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov, or, in the least, making his job harder to do, would be a start.

By Wilson’s count, the Leafs won 17-of-21 faceoffs in the offensive zone against the Canadiens, but scoring chances were hard to come by.

“We had possession of the puck, but we never did penetrate or really even pushed ourselves to penetrate, and that’s what we were trying to do (in practice on Sunday),” Wilson said. “We have a tendency to peel away or maintain our speed when a simple thing like stopping in front of the net and directing pucks can scramble a goalie.”

No Leafs forwards have been super lately, but MacArthur is in a deeper rut than most. He has gone seven games without a point, his longest dry spell of the season. That’s a snapshot of the Leafs’ plight as a whole, as they have scored just 11 goals in their past six games.

MacArthur finds himself on the fourth line with David Steckel and Mike Brown, as Joey Crabb has supplanted him on a line with his familiar friends, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin.

MacArthur and assistant coach Scott Gordon spent several minutes talking to each other as the practice wound down.

“I don’t know what to say,” MacArthur said. “That combination (of himself with Grabovski and Kulemin, a line that was great last season), I don’t know how it can’t work. There’s no reason for it. It’s unbelievable how the puck won’t go in the net for us.”


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