Leafs need to play with less 'fear' from the get-go | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaLeafs need to play with less 'fear' from the get-go

Posted: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 | 04:39 PM

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Goalie Jonathan Bernier (45) and the rest of his Toronto Maple Leafs’ teammates need to have better starts to games if the team hopes to make the playoffs. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press) Goalie Jonathan Bernier (45) and the rest of his Toronto Maple Leafs’ teammates need to have better starts to games if the team hopes to make the playoffs. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

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Slow starts, early deficits and frantic late-game surges have all contributed to the Toronto Maple Leafs' six-game losing streak.
Maybe it's a good thing the Toronto Maple Leafs are out of a playoff spot.

If they have proven nothing else, being behind the eight ball causes them to play their best hockey. The template has been simple during their recent losing skid: start slowly, fall behind, look up at the clock to see time is running out, and then tromp down on the gas pedal.

Unfortunately, it has been a case of too little too late during the Maple Leafs' six-game losing streak.

Tuesday was an exception, but only slightly. The Maple Leafs actually took the lead for the first time in eight games against the St. Louis Blues. Don't let that fact fool you, though. The Buds were absolutely horrible through the first period and didn't even get their first shot on goal until six minutes in.

The shots on goal - 23-7 for the Blues - and the score - 2-1, also for the Blues - are a more accurate indication of how the first period went for Toronto, which ended up losing 5-3.

Only the solid play of goaltender Jonathan Bernier prevented it from being a blowout. Where have you heard that before?

"We made a good push, but it wasn't enough," Bernier said. "We came back in the game and against a defensive team like that it's pretty big. We've got to learn that if we play like we did in the third we can beat any team in this league. Next game we have to be really focused on our start instead of chasing the game."

Falling behind on the scoreboard has been a wake-up call for the Maple Leafs. Perhaps falling behind in the standings will do the same thing.

"Right now it seems like when we get down, then we're playing with no fear and we're letting some of our skill take over," said left-winger Joffrey Lupul. "Our defencemen are rushing he puck out of the zone, making plays, and at the start of the game we seem a little tentative. 

"There's something to be said about being down and not having that fear anymore, but realistically we have to play like that right from the start. It's more of a psychological thing than a physical thing."

The Maple Leafs have a huge test coming with a game against the Flyers in Philadelphia Friday night, and then a match against the Detroit Red Wings at home the following night.
The question is, why do the Maple Leafs have to be trailing to play their best hockey?

"That's the million dollar question right now," said left-winger James van Riemsdyk. "Every time we get down we start to ramp it up and it's always too little too late at the end. We have a lot of fight left in us and there's eight games left so we have to leave it all out there in all eight games. This thing is far from over."

Defenceman Carl Gunnarsson added: "It's tough being down two, three, four goals - whatever it might be - and against team like [the Blues], it's tough. It's not the way you want to do it. It is something we've got to change. If we play like we did in the third period for 60 minutes I don't think there are a lot of teams that could beat us."

The big stretch

After missing five games with a groin injury, and then getting shelled in the first period upon his return, Bernier was careful to stretch at every opportunity during stoppages in play Tuesday. He said he will probably have to do that for the remainder of the year.

"It was a little sore, obviously, but I was trying to get it loose between the whistle and timeout," he said. "My leg felt pretty good today."

Asked if he can play on back-to-back nights, Bernier smiled and said, "yes."

Leave our goalies alone

Lupul said his team's goaltenders, particularly James Reimer, are taking too much heat for the team's losing streak.

"You win as a team, you lose as a team every night," Lupul said. "Goalie is a position where it's easy to place the blame because it's a little more obvious sometimes. That's the way a good team is; a goalie lets in a bad goal once in a while and someone else makes up for it. Another time maybe we can't score so the goalie has to make some big saves. 

"It's a team game, 100 per cent, and when you get in a slide like this it's easy to start pinpointing individuals, which is fair, but as a group we look at it like if there's a mistake made by someone, then someone else steps up and makes a play for them. We just haven't been doing quite enough of that right now."

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