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Leafs lack answers after latest loss Add to ...

Without a letter on his jersey or any tenure with the team, Clarke MacArthur has nonetheless become an unlikely voice for another lost season for the Toronto Maple Leafs this year.

After yet another ugly performance on Monday - this one a 6-3 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers - he didn't hold back in criticizing his team's play.

"I don't know if we need to bring a cattle prod in here and poke everyone in the ribs before we go on the ice or what," MacArthur said. "Come out sleeping, down 2-0 - I mean, what are the odds of coming back in 2-0 games? What, 5 per cent? I mean, it's not going to happen."

Spotting the opposition an early lead is nothing new for Toronto, as they have been outscored 35-19 in first periods alone. The Leafs have allowed the first goal 20 times this season and have a 4-15-1 record in those games.

It was perhaps with that figure in mind that the Thrashers came out hard in Monday's game, something that paid dividends quickly, as Fredrik Modin and Toby Enstrom scored their first of two goals apiece within the first three minutes.

Given Toronto's inability to score - ranking third last in the league in goals per game - that was almost an insurmountable lead against an Atlanta team that was 11-2-2 in its last 15 games coming in.

This has become a team without many answers - at least beyond the passionate postgame rants from MacArthur, one of the only Leafs to exceed expectations on the ice this season.

He also offered a defence of coach Ron Wilson, who the Air Canada Centre crowd chanted "Fire Wilson" at briefly with the Leafs down 5-1 early in the third period. There were also waffles thrown on the ice, likely by the same culprit who tossed the breakfast food a couple weeks ago.

"That's getting sickening," MacArthur said of the Wilson chants. "I mean, I can't look past myself. No one else should on this team either. [The coaches]aren't the ones out there the first five minutes of the game not skating. We've got to do something in here. I've said it before with the systems and that, they're as good as anybody's. It's about guys doing it. That's all it is."

Wilson, meanwhile, was relatively emotionless after the game, pointing to an incredible 33 blocked shots by the Thrashers as one of the reasons the Leafs failed to find the back of the net until the game was essentially out of reach.

Toronto out shot Atlanta 40-23 and had another 51 attempts either blocked or miss the net. The Thrashers had only 13 shots blocked and 15 miss the net.

Several players mentioned the coaching staff was livid over the number of shots that were easily blocked in the game.

"We never quit. We had an incredible number of scoring chances," Wilson said. "Our problem was basically the first shift for every line and every pair of defence was a disaster and we ended up down 2-0.

"We had 24 shots after two periods and 25 blocked and 13 of those shots were attempted by our D. The tale of two tapes here: They had traffic in front and got their shots through and we couldn't get our shots through and probably didn't have traffic in front."

Wilson added that he felt his team's late comeback attempt, where Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin scored in the final seven minutes, nearly brought the game to overtime.

"God, we actually could have tied the game up, believe it or not," Wilson said. "It wasn't looking good [for Atlanta]with the two quick power play goals and six or seven unbelievable chances after that that we didn't finish. If we add one more with two or three minutes left I think we would have tied the game for sure."

At least part of the issue for Toronto was in goal, as Jonas Gustavsson had one of his weakest games of the season and let in an absolute laugher on Atlanta's fifth goal.

"He's unfortunately been struggling a little bit," Wilson said. "In hindsight maybe I should have changed goalies a little bit earlier in the game, but I wanted him to battle through it and I didn't want our players thinking the goalie was the excuse because it really wasn't."

With the loss, Toronto is 8-17-4 since a 4-0-0 start to the season and 4-8-1 in its last 13 games. Several of the team's offensive players are MIA, with only the MacArthur-Grabovski-Kulemin line producing much offence of late.

Captain Dion Phaneuf, minus-2 in the game, was asked afterward what the Leafs need to change to reverse the losing trend.

"A better start would have helped us, that's pretty evident," he said. "We just did not start well. It's disappointing to lose this big of a game before the break. We didn't give ourselves a chance."

The Leafs now have a five-day break in their schedule for Christmas before a Boxing Day road game against the Devils, one of only two teams behind them in the standings.

MacArthur didn't sound like he was looking forward to the time off.

"[We'll]get some rest, we obviously need it the way we came out today," MacArthur said. "It's just not acceptable the last few games.

"We have to take advantage of that [break] that's one positive thing, I guess. We have to do something over the break to stay ready. We'll start with New Jersey. I mean we've got to start somewhere."

 

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