TORONTO - Luke Schenn called it "embarrassing."
He and the Leafs lost for the ninth time in the last 10 games (1-8-1) on Tuesday night, a stunted start haunting the club in a 5-3 defeat to the Panthers at the Air Canada Centre. Florida hit the scoreboard after only 13 seconds - the eighth time in the last nine the Leafs have surrendered the first goal - adding a follow-up just over two minutes later.
Chasing all night, the Leafs came up with another inconsistent effort - their fifth consecutive loss - just a day after remaining intact through the trade deadline.
"We're embarrassed to go out there and play like that in front of our home fans and get booed in your own building," said Schenn following the game. "It's happened before when we've been [a] last-place team, stuff like that the past couple years. But right now we're in a playoff hunt and going down the stretch of the final games, it's embarrassing and there's no excuses really."
Now four points back of the Capitals (69 points) for the eighth and final playoff spot, the Leafs (65) are suddenly just a point up on the Lightning (64), three up on the Sabres (62), and only four ahead of the Hurricanes and Islanders (61 each).
19 games still remain, beginning with a trip to the United Center in Chicago on Wednesday night.
"It's not like guys don't want to win," concluded Schenn. "It's not like we enjoy getting booed on our home ice or nothing like that. Like I said, every guy is embarrassed.
"It's definitely not fun right now."
1. Fumbling with the puck along the wall in the defensive zone, Schenn's miscue opened the door to the Panthers first goal, Marcel Goc burying a feed from Wojtek Wolski. "I messed up there pretty bad the first shift," said Schenn. "A 100 percent, I'll take the blame for that...I've got no excuse for it. It's just a bad play." Mike Santorelli followed up two minutes and eight seconds later, Mike Komisarek's failed hit attempt on Jack Skille in the neutral zone springing the Panthers for an odd-man rush. "We talked about it'd be nice to get a lead right off the bat," said a composed Ron Wilson afterward. "We gave them the first two goals."
2. Tentative starts have been the norm during the Leafs recent skid. "The bottom line is we just haven't started well," said Dion Phaneuf. "There's not much more breaking down that you can do. We just haven't started good enough for the time of year and how big the points are, how big the games are. We're putting ourselves behind and it's hurting us." Tuesday was the fifth time in the last seven games that the opposition jumped ahead by two in the opening period. "We're digging holes that are too tough at this time of year to come back, against teams that need the points just as much as we do," concluded Phaneuf.
3. A subject of much consternation with the team skidding, "Fire Wilson" chants reigned down from the crowd in Toronto throughout the night. "It's frustrating, but understandable," said Wilson. "You do get exasperated. You get frustrated. But tomorrow's a new day, the sun will probably come up and we've got to pull up our boot-straps and get going." It's easy to point the finger at the coach with the team skidding, but mental breakdowns and shaky goaltending are hardly the makings of the man behind the bench. "When things don't go well the finger gets pointed at a lot of different areas throughout a team," said Phaneuf. "We're definitely on the same page as our coaching staff, but we've got to do a better job of starting games and play the way that we do when we're down by two when the game starts." Added Schenn, "It's not Ron's fault that we're making bad plays and playing the way we are. It's every guy in this room right now."
4. James Reimer didn't get much help, but still yielded five goals on 23 shots, the seventh time in eight games that the 23-year-old has allowed three or more. "That's all Reims can do is work through it," said Wilson. "But early in the game we didn't do anything to help him. The first shot's a one-timer off the post and the next one's a two-on-one backdoor play that he doesn't have a chance on." Jonas Gustavsson is expected to start against the Blackhawks on Wednesday.
5. The trade deadline proved to be a real source of anxiety in the Leaf dressing room, snowballing alongside the team's recent struggles. "There's a lot of noise that you try to block out, but human nature takes over," said Wilson before the game. "You're going to hear some of the stuff and it's going to bother you at night when you try to go to sleep...It's not 'Oh you're pros, you're athletes and you're supposed to expect that, you make a lot of money' but the human nature is the same. All the guys think the same way you guys think. Nobody wants to go through a disruptive situation like that."
Phaneuf had three assists in the loss, also logging a team-high 24:14...Mikhail Grabovski's goal drought hit 13 games, his longest this season...Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul both posted a goal and an assist. Kessel now sits fifth in league scoring with 67 points, Lupul tied for eighth with 64...The Leaf powerplay scored twice in five opportunities...Clarke MacArthur has one goal in the last 10 games...Matthew Lombardi posted a minus-2 rating in the loss, now a team-worst minus-13 this season...The Leafs went 63% on the draw...Komisarek logged just over 15 minutes after sitting the previous four games...Cody Franson and Colby Armstrong were scratched, but Wilson said lineup changes are to be expected in Chicago on Wednesday.