Leafs have lost their way

In theory, Saturdayís date against the Canadiens in Montreal should be the easiest for Wilsonís...

In theory, Saturdayís date against the Canadiens in Montreal should be the easiest for Wilsonís troops in the next little while. (DAVE ABEL/QMI Agency)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:39 AM ET

CHICAGO - The alarm bells for the Maple Leafs keep on ringing, louder by the loss, it seems.

The longer the current skid continues, of course, the noisier it will get for coach Ron Wilson and the players who have lost their way so profoundly.

Even on nights when they play relatively well, like they did here Wednesday against the Blackhawks, the team canít collect even the tiniest reward. There may be a tendency to applaud the Leafs for a decent effort in a 5-4 loss at the United Center, but the best before on moral victories for this team has long expired.

Here, then, are five (just five?) consequences from the disastrous run that has seen the Leafs lose 10 of their past 11, a hellacious streak which has all but ruined their season.

1. POINTS PARADE

Remember when February began with such promise after a nice, post all-star break run that seemed to have the Leafs moving up the standings rather than down?

Well donít look now, but the team has exactly the same points total it did a year ago when it missed the post-seven for a sixth consecutive season.

With 65 points in 64 games, the prognosis has turned decidedly to bleak, even in a campaign that might be one of the easiest in recent memory to qualify for an Eastern Conference playoff spot. The simple fact is the Leafs are as close to 14th in the East as they are to eighth, a shocking turnaround in such a short time.

2. SCHEDULE

In theory, Saturdayís date against the Canadiens in Montreal should be the easiest for Wilsonís troops in the next little while.

You can throw that out the window, because even if the Habs seem determined to tank the season to help their draft position, they arenít going to pass up a chance to entertain their own fans by heaping more humiliation on their Original Six rivals.

The Bell Centre date is Game 2 of a run that includes eight of 10 on the road. On Tuesday, they return home to face a Boston Bruins team that has manhandled them this season ó and that was back when they were competitive ó followed by a visit to Pittsburgh the next night.

On the weekend, itís the Flyers in town on Saturday followed by yet another back-to-back, a late Sunday afternoon game in Washington.

You get the picture and with just 18 games remaining, it isnít a pretty one.

3. COACHíS CORNERED

The speculation surrounding Wilsonís future isnít going to die down until the moment he either gets fired or gets his team back in a playoff position.

But beyond all that chatter, there seems to be a change around Wilson. While not completely letting his guard down, he seems to be a beaten man these days and is at a loss for what it might take to stop the bleeding.

He isnít about to acknowledge it publicly, but the derisive chants for his job from the Air Canada Centre unfaithful on Tuesday night had to eat at Wilson and with six consecutive losses, itís almost as if he is out of answers.

4. DEFENSIVE BREAKDOWNS

What once was a position of strength for the team has degenerated to a liability and there was no greater example than Wednesday night in Chicago.

While the Leafs played a decent game, albeit against a Blackhawks team that is fighting through its own struggles, defensive-zone breakdowns and a lack of will to win battles in front of their own net did them in again.

There may be eroding confidence in the goaltending behind them, but the Leafs struggles go beyond the blatant giveaways like the one Luke Schenn gave up in the first minute against Florida on Tuesday.

Against the Hawks, the blunder that stood out the most was subtle but equally damaging. Unwilling or unable to win a battle along the words, the Leafs watched as Andrew Shaw claimed the puck uncontested in the corner and skated unbothered to the front of the net where he easily deposited a shot behind Jonas Gustavsson.

5. NET PAINS

Forget for a moment that Jonas Gustavsson actually played a decent game on Wednesday night in the Windy City as a Leafs goaltender didnít surrender a suspect goal or two for the first time in several games.

The inability of either netminder to own the job and provide some stability for those in front of them has been a frustrating reality that shows no sign of ending. The regression of their play, particularly in the case or Reimer, is not without some legitimate questions, starting with how the pair are responding to the teachings of goaltending coach, Francois Allaire. It all starts in net and the shoddy play here has cost the team too many games.


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