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Siegel: Maple Leafs melt down in Carolina

Jonas Siegel
12/30/2011 10:22:58 AM
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RALEIGH, N.C. - Standing in near isolation in the visitors' dressing room of the RBC Center, Keith Aulie simmered with frustration.

Only moments prior did he and the Leafs completely melt down, blowing a two-goal third period lead before falling to Eric Staal (two goals) and the Hurricanes 4-3 in overtime on Thursday night.

"Just a couple miscues and that's how fast things can change," Aulie told the Leaf Report, following the game. "3-1 lead, we should keep playing, do the little things, be in the right position. They got a couple breaks tonight and it came back to haunt us."

"At least we got a point," Ron Wilson noted, somewhat sourly, "but I'm not happy. I'm disappointed in the way once we got the lead that our mental approach wasn't right.

"We should know how to defend a lead. I know we know how to defend the lead and yet we didn't."
 
The loss was the second straight for the Leafs, who wrap up a three-game road trip in Winnipeg on Saturday.

Five Points

1. The meltdown began only 40 seconds after Joffrey Lupul made it 3-1 with his 17th goal of the year. Aulie and partner Dion Phaneuf were on the ice in both instances. "It's just unfortunate plays," Aulie said. "First one gets chipped out [of the offensive zone] and Eric Staal – he's a quick guy so he's flying – kind of got a jump on us. He goes down on a breakaway [and] he's not going to miss very many of those. At that point it's 3-2 and we should just keep playing. It's a 3-2 game in the third period, we should be comfortable, we should be just ready to finish out the game. And then [on the game-tying goal] the puck gets in the blue paint and then scrambling around and they end up whacking it home. Two unfortunate goals, but we've just got to look forward now."

Phaneuf's failure to spot Staal breaking free – with Aulie looking to hold a puck in at the offensive blueline – brought the Hurricanes to within one (Wilson conceded in hindsight that a timeout should've been called). A turnover in the defensive zone and subsequent inability to clear the front of the net (Phaneuf was beaten by Brandon Sutter initially) led to Zac Dalpe tying the game at three on a rebound. "It's not just Dion and I out there," Aulie noted. "It's five guys. Battle in the paint is six guys, it's the goalie too."

2. Reimer was beaten in OT by Staal's second of the game with the Hurricanes minding a 4-on-3 powerplay advantage. "The overtime, you get stuck in a four-on-three, you're looking at trying to kill off two minutes there and that's personally I think a puck you have to stop," Wilson said. The puck went between the glove and body of the struggling Reimer. "I think that's a puck I want to stop, at least most of the time," he said. The 23-year-old dropped to 1-3-1 in seven starts on the road with a 4.18 goals against average and .858 save percentage.

3. Empty in seven opportunities on the powerplay the Leafs were clearly missing John-Michael Liles on Thursday night, notably the first unit which consists currently of Phaneuf, Lupul, Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak and Carl Gunnarsson. "We're really missing him," Wilson concurred. "Whoever's gone out on the second unit – if you want to call it that – have done a really good job and have had a lot of scoring chances." The second unit – Nazem Kadri, Tim Connolly (and/or Mikhail Grabovski), Clarke MacArthur, Jake Gardiner and Cody Franson – have accounted for the last three powerplay goals.

Over the last 10 games, the powerplay is just 4-33 (12 percent).

4. Kessel, Lupul and Bozak had another uninspiring night in the defensive zone, on the ice for two more goals against, the Hurricanes first and third goals. "They didn't have a very good game tonight," Wilson said. "Lot of turnovers in our zone. We need them to play better, it's as simple as that."

5. Wilson called the fourth line his best versus Carolina, specifically praising the efforts of Darryl Boyce, who chipped in with an assist on Nikolai Kulemin's fourth of the season. "Darryl was always kind of an irritant," he said. "He was going to the net hard and drawing a lot of attention and made a great play on Kulie's goal in sort of reaching for the puck and good second effort to get it on the net."

Bonus Points

Kadri scored his third goal in four games since being recalled. "I think I'm playing well out there, but at the end of the day it all comes down to the win category," he said...The Leaf penalty kill was a perfect 3-3 in regulation before surrendering the winner in OT. They've now allowed a goal in 10 of the last 11 games…With a point each, Kessel and Lupul  have still yet to go consecutive games without hitting the scoresheet this season…Connolly has just five points in the last 13 games (three goals, two assists).

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