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Leafs Beat

Leafs top line bottoms out Add to ...

The reviews are in for the Toronto Maple Leafs' revamped first line, and after just one game, they aren't all that pretty.

Winger Clarke MacArthur, who skated alongside Phil Kessel and Nazem Kadri on the team's nominal top line in a 4-3 overtime loss Tuesday to the Tampa Bay Lighting, didn't hold back when asked about the trio's play.

"Three lines worked so hard, and our line, we were a non-factor and that can't happen," MacArthur said, stopping short of calling out his more high-profile linemates.

"It's not happening again. That's not going to happen. We have to outwork guys. If we don't want to work then we shouldn't get on the ice. That's how it should be because too many guys worked too hard last night to have that slip away."

All three players picked up big minutes and went pointless in the game, but the Leafs' biggest concern has to be Kessel, who has just five points in his past 15 games and has been a minus player seven times in that span.

It's no coincidence that Toronto has won three of those 15 contests either, as a large part of the team's offence is supposed to run through their $5.4-million (U.S.) man.

Kessel, however, has appeared disinterested, frustrated or both in recent games, which has led to more 1-on-1 play, making him easier for opponents to shut down.

Never known as a defensive stalwart, his unwillingness to battle for the puck in the corners or the front of the net has rendered him ineffective in the offensive zone at times during his slump.

Quiet and reserved, Kessel also often seems ill at ease around the media, a large group of whom again sought him out for three minutes of pulling teeth after practice Wednesday.

"I don't know," he said when asked what his line needs to do differently. "I'm not sure. I guess we've got to support a little better. We didn't create that much [Tuesday]night and we've got to be better."

With the Edmonton Oilers in town for a rare visit on Thursday, all eyes in Toronto are fixed on the standings, where both teams are once again neck and neck in a battle to get out of the league's basement.

Toronto and Edmonton finished 29th and 30th in the NHL last season, which allowed the Oilers to select super prospect Taylor Hall with the No. 1 overall pick and created a nightmare scenario for the Leafs, given they had dealt their first-rounder to the Boston Bruins for Kessel last September.

With one more first-rounder to pony up next June, the Leafs are on pace to finish among the worst five teams in the league, creating pressure on the team to pull out of its tailspin.

"You want to win games," Kessel said. "No one thinks about that, you know, the draft or anything like that. We're here to win hockey games and [Thursday]will be another important game for us."

The Oilers should, in theory, be an easy target for Toronto. Edmonton has allowed the most goals against in the NHL this season and will be playing the second game of a back to back after taking on the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday.

Few wins have been easy for the Leafs, however. A loss would mean they head into their tilt against the Bruins on Saturday with just four wins in their past 20 games.

"Every game's huge for us now," MacArthur said. "I couldn't even sleep [Tuesday]night. It's the worst feeling ever when you work like that and you let it slip away.

"The coaches have done their part in getting us ready, doing the right things and for us to go out and piss it away like that is just disheartening. Just terrible."

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

 

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