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Toronto Maple Leafs Head Coach Ron Wilson (left) offers advice during practice on October 5, 2011. Photo by Chris Young for The Globe and Mail (Chris Young/The Globe and Mail)
Toronto Maple Leafs Head Coach Ron Wilson (left) offers advice during practice on October 5, 2011. Photo by Chris Young for The Globe and Mail (Chris Young/The Globe and Mail)

Leafs preach better team defence against struggling Wild Add to ...

If there's a team to bump a slump against, it's probably the Minnesota Wild.

They've won only twice in 16 games, cratering badly after a 20-7-3 start had them atop the standings and, in a rare occurrence, the talk of the NHL.

Wild coach Mike Yeo had a few good lines on Thursday about his team as they prepared to face the Toronto Maple Leafs, with perhaps the best an analogy about the destination being more important than the journey when it comes to the standings.

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"It's not how you drive," Yeo quipped, "it's how you arrive."

Maybe so, but his team is either in the ditch or on the tow truck at the moment. Their only regulation win since Dec. 10 has come against the Edmonton Oilers, their leading scorer in Mikko Koivu is out with injury and a man by the name of Warren Peters is their first-line centre.

They're looking at this as an important game, however, as it'll be broadcast on TSN (a rarity for the Wild) and it'll come against a Toronto team that is behind them in the standings and has lost three straight.

"This is a big game," Yeo said. "And a big opportunity for us to come here and remind everybody that we're not going away."

Wilson harps on defence

The vast majority of Leafs coach Ron Wilson's meeting with the media, meanwhile, was focused on his team's defensive game, something that led to breaking up his two top scorers on the first line for the first time.

Joffrey Lupul didn't say as much, but you got the sense he wasn't all that happy about the split. He believes "tough luck" is partly to blame for some of the goals that have come against his line in recent games.

"To be honest, the last couple games, we've had some tough luck, too," Lupul said. "It seems every time pucks get in our zone, it's off someone's foot and in the net. There's nothing you can do. We know we've got to play a little bit better defensively.

"Getting pucks out on the boards would probably be the first thing we'd look to. Because sometime when you can't do that, you end up in the zone longer. But I just thought the last couple games it was a stretch where every time the puck was shot it ended up in the net."

Here was Wilson's mini-rant on that theme of getting better defence from his forwards:

"We have to stop the other team," he said. "Sometimes you can't control how well the other goalie plays, so if you can score two and you only give up one, you're going to win the game. It's not about all they hear here [from media]is secondary scoring, secondary scoring, we've got to score more goals. If you're giving up three, yes you do. If you only give up one or two or none, you don't.

"We can score, but you can't expect to score four or five goals every night. A lot of our offence at times has come from our power play. In the last three weeks, we're only giving up one a game and we're only getting one a game. So if you're waiting for a power play to come along to contribute some offence, it's not going to be there. So we've got to play, 5-on-5, better defensively."

Leafs lineup

Lombardi - Bozak - Kessel Macarthur - Grabovski - Kulemin Lupul - Connolly - Kadri Brown - Steckel - Crabb

Phaneuf - Schenn Gunnarsson - Komisarek Gardiner - Franson

Gustavsson

The Wild lineup is available here.

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