They have to play the Maple Leafs on Tuesday night, and Toronto is so hungry for a win after going winless in seven that the Bolts could get battered. The Leafs are due for a win, and they believe they’ll boomerang once they get it. “Sometimes when you lose a couple it snowballs and when you win a couple it snowballs the other way,” says captain Mats Sundin.
Coach Paul Maurice has handled the players well during the slump. He keeps running constructive practices and pumping positive vibes into the dressing room.
“I’m not at the end of my rope,” he says. “Pointing out every mistake is like beating a dead horse.”
Maurice and GM John Ferguson have huddled and decided not to call in reinforcements from the farm. The NHL’s sleeping giant will go with the guys it has.
“I like the players in the room knowing it’s them who’ll turn this around,” Maurice said after practice Monday. “There’s some confidence brought about by that.
“You don’t have your veteran guys saying, ‘Well, let’s just wait another week and there’ll be three new faces in here.’ Your kids aren’t squeezing their sticks (fearing) they’re on their way out if they get a bad bounce.
“We’ll squeeze some of these guys and see how they respond and maybe in six months time we’ll look back and say, ‘This is a player who didn’t fit with what we were trying to do,’ and we’ll have some guys about whom we’ll say, ‘Hey, he really blossomed.’
“I like it this way. I’m not looking for new faces coming through the door.”
There are, however, tremors within the dressing room.
Jean-Sebastien Aubin gets the start against the Lightning.
“He looks comfortable and confident out there,” said Maurice.
If the Leafs win, it’s only logical that Ferguson and Maurice would start him again on the road against the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday. They’ve clearly reached the point at which Raycroft, yanked after two periods of a 5-1 loss in Detroit on Saturday, is no longer an automatic choice to start a game. The guy who’s hot will start now, and Aubin will get every opportunity to show he’s hottest.
Also, Maurice says he’ll give more ice time to players such as John Pohl, who’s been skating on the fourth line.
“We’re going to give other players some opportunities in terms of minutes played and special teams,” he said. “We’ll move some people around.”
Pohl, who has scored only two goals, appreciates the opportunity.
“There’s still 50-some games left,” he said. “There’s a lot of time. “By no means are we out of this. We’re confident in our ability.”
Toronto hasn’t won a game since Sundin returned from an elbow injury, and the team has scored only nine times during the seven-game slide.
“I couldn’t tell you,” Sundin replied when asked for an explanation. “I wish I knew the reason.
“We all have to pick up the scoring, there’s no doubt about that, if we want to get through this.”
Time and again, Maurice and Sundin returned to positive themes during interviews.
“We had a good practice and it’s nice to be back home,” said Sundin.
It’s still a playoff-worthy team, he adds.
“If you look at our conference, there might be two teams you could say are better on paper than we are – Buffalo and Atlanta, who are way ahead of us in points,” Sundin said. “Saying that though, we need to play better than we have in the last little while.
“We get back to playing like we did earlier in the season, there’s no reason why we can’t be a playoff team and get back to the position we were in three weeks ago. I believe we have a good enough team, and everybody in this (dressing) room does, too.”
Toronto and Tampa Bay are both at .500. The Leafs are tied for ninth in the East with 31 points, and the Lightning are tied for 11th with 30. Only five points separated sixth-place Carolina from 13th-place Pittsburgh on Monday.
“I said this from the start, this is going to be a dogfight,” said Maurice. “So the fact that we were not in (a dogfight earlier) doesn’t surprise me.
“The fact it took us this long to get in it may be a little bit of a surprise. But I also think we can come out on top.”