Siegel: Leafs pay for mistakes in Vancouver

Jonas Siegel
2/19/2012 2:18:57 AM
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VANCOUVER – Joffrey Lupul threw his hands up in the air in sheer frustration.
Only seconds earlier had Alex Burrows extended the Canucks lead to three, well on the way to a 6-2 thumping of the Leafs at Rogers Arena on Saturday night. The loss was the fifth in the last six games for the Leafs (1-5-0), fortunate to be clinging to eighth in the Eastern Conference with 64 points.
Pouncing on turnovers, poor decision-making and sloppy defensive zone awareness, Vancouver (9-0-3 in their last 12 games) punished a slew of mistakes from their cross-country opponents, winning their 10th straight against Toronto.
"We had our head spinning at times in our own end," Ron Wilson noted after the third and final game of a Western Canadian swing. "They don't need a lot to make you pay and tonight they made us pay."
The Sedin brothers combined for eight points in the thorough deconstruction with running mate Alex Burrows adding a pair of goals. Be it Burrows and Daniel breaking in for an odd-man rush – following a poor pinch from Keith Aulie – or Daniel bolting past three Leafs untouched, the visitors were visibly short in their efforts to halt a vastly superior opponent.
"Bottom line is we gave up too many good opportunities to a really good offensive team," Dion Phaneuf concluded soberly. "When you give them odd-man rushes and you turn over the puck, they're going to make you pay and that was a perfect example tonight."
Five Points
1. Defensive ineffectiveness has gradually crept into the Leafs game over the past couple weeks. Since beating the Oilers at home in a wide-open showdown on February 6, the club has sprung leaks in the defensive zone, yielding three or more in five straight. "We're going to have to talk about it I guess when we get back to Toronto here and clean up a few things," Luke Schenn said. "Too many chances against, not playing [a] real solid defensive game, not enough help maybe coming back and our defense have got to do a better job down-low too." "We take pride in being a good defensive team just like every other team in the league," Phaneuf added. "We don't talk before games about exchanging chances."
2. Notably absent of late is Carl Gunnarsson, out for the third consecutive game with a sprained right ankle. Gunnarsson logs over 22 minutes a game in top pairing duty with Phaneuf. "We rely heavily on Carl Gunnarsson," Wilson noted, "and missing him from the lineup really hurts us." Aulie was plugged in to mind the gap with Phaneuf again on Saturday, but cost the club on the Canucks first goal, a bad pinch leading to Burrow's first of two. The 22-year-old logged only 11:13 in the loss. Gunnarsson meanwhile is expected to return next week, likely on Thursday when the Sharks come to town.
3. Not surprisingly the Leaf offence has gradually dried up with the troubles defensively. Saturday marked the fourth time in six games that they've managed two or fewer, not helped at all by a once-dominant powerplay that's gone cold, just 5-49 over the past 16 games (10%). "When we have success offensively it's because we're good in our own end," Phaneuf said. Showing signs of promise in early February, the line of Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur and Nikolai Kulemin has gone dry again, totaling just three points combined in the last six games. Kulemin snapped a 16-game goal drought with his sixth of the year late in the proceedings.
4. Quite often on the attack, the Leafs have been caught trying to force the extra play, never more evident than in the first period on Saturday. MacArthur and Grabovski broke in for a two-on-one opportunity, MacArthur's pass attempt broken up before a shot could be directed at Roberto Luongo. "I think guys are squeezing the stick maybe a little bit too much right now," Schenn said. "Everyone wants to win so bad they're trying to make that extra little play and that can back-fire."
5. James Reimer was hooked for the second time in his last three starts, yielding four goals on 18 shots. "Obviously I'd like to at least make a few saves there for my team, but kudos to them for making a few nice shots," he said. "At times it's been a struggle, but we have to be better in front of our goalies than we were tonight, simple as that," Wilson noted. Reimer has allowed three in more in five consecutive starts, this after consecutive shutouts to begin the month. Goaltending is emerging as a real point of contention for the Leafs as the postseason push marches on, neither Reimer or Jonas Gustavsson able to seize control of the crease. Gustavsson appears the more sturdy option, quite capable in January with seven wins and three shutouts.
Bonus Points
Jake Gardiner led the Leafs in ice-time with 26:17, finishing with a plus-1 rating...The top line of Lupul, Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak were on the ice for each of the first three Canuck goals against...John-Michael Liles finished with a minus-3 rating, but did add his first point in nine games...Gustavsson allowed two goals on 18 shots in relief of Reimer...Schenn logged over 21 minutes after a one-game stint in the press-box...Kessel added an assist in the loss, now with points in seven of the last eight games. The 24-year-old is fourth in the NHL scoring race with 63 points...Mikhail Grabovski has gone nine straight games without a goal.
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