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The Globe and Mail

Home ice still no advantage for struggling Leafs

Carolina Hurricane Jeff Skinner celebrates a goal by teammate Jordan Staal as Toronto Maple Leafs Korbinian Holzer hits the ice during second period NHL play Feb 4, 2013 in Toronto.

Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail

Let it be known the Toronto Maple Leafs are desperately trying to make home ice advantage a little bit more of an advantage in their bid to return to the playoffs.

That means fewer of those tiresome in-game promotions.

Better ice conditions – with NHL ice man Dan Craig rumoured to be on hand to work on the Air Canada Centre sheet recently.

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And more incentive for the fans to become loud and involved.

So all that they seem to need now is the wins.

But the Leafs lost 4-1 to the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday night, dropping to 1-4-0 at home to start the season to give them an embarrassingly low three wins in their last 18 games at the ACC.

It's a trend that has been noted often by Leafs GM Dave Nonis and coach Randy Carlyle starting right from training camp, with Nonis quietly working on some of the issues like the building atmosphere and Carlyle tackling the on-ice component.

To start Monday's game, that effort appeared to be working, too.

The Leafs came out flying off the opening faceoff and the fans were onboard, especially after the home side scored first only six minutes in when Nazem Kadri put a shot on goal and winger Matt Frattin batted in a big rebound.

That was part of a flurry of opportunities for Toronto in the first, as they rang up an 18-12 shot advantage and 1-0 lead in one of their more dominating starts to a game this season.

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The second period, however, was basically a complete reversal, with the Leafs hemmed in their own zone for huge stretches and Carolina putting 20 shots on James Reimer.

Even in allowing two goals, he did well to minimize the damage in a continuation of his strong play this season.

"When it starts to go the other way on us we don't seem to be able to pick ourselves back up and say stop it," Carlyle lamented after the game. "The turnovers are the most disturbing thing for me. When we started to play poorly, it just seemed to multiply for us."

"We got away from our game there," added defenceman John-Michael Liles, who was responsible for letting up on one potential icing play that ended up in the back of the Leafs net. "It was a momentum changer."

But the story of the period – and ultimately the game – came late when the officials interjected with Carolina already ahead 2-1 courtesy of goals from the Staal brothers, Jordan and Eric.

The biggest controversy was a disallowed goal call, one that would have knotted things at 2-2 with little more than a minute to play in the second. Leafs defenceman Mike Kostka appeared to have made a nice play in putting the tying marker off of Tyler Bozak's skates and in, but the officials went upstairs and Bozak's stopping motion was ruled a kicking one.

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"From the video, it looked like he kicked the puck," Carlyle said. "And I don't think he meant to do it."

"I didn't really see much, to be honest," Bozak said. "I don't think I kicked it. Tough call."

To make matters worse, Kostka and rookie teammate Korbinian Holzer were then both tagged with tripping penalties 30 seconds apart to close the period, setting up a lengthy 5-on-3 to begin the third.

The combined effect of the disallowed goal and the Holzer penalty – an odd one given the perpetrator hardly moved on the play – was enough to pump up the crowd more than any in-game promotion, as they booed the refs heavily to end the second and again to start the third.

"That was the call that I think was the difference in the game," Carlyle said of the one on Holzer.

Predictably, Hurricanes defenceman Justin Faulk scored on their man advantage, putting his team up by two as they went 2-for-3 on the night on the power play in a marked contrast to the Leafs dismal 0-for-4 that drops them to an abysmal 2-for-26 in their last six games.

Add to that a deepening, season-long goalless drought for perennial 30-goal man Phil Kessel, injuries on the blueline to key defensive cogs like Carl Gunnarsson and a fourth line that has more penalty minutes than minutes played some nights, and there were plenty of reasons to be down on the Leafs after this one.

On this night, however, the Toronto fans found another (somewhat legitimate) scapegoat in the officials, who had a tough night all around given veteran Marc Joannette took a puck to the face – losing a couple teeth – and more than his fair share of catcalls.

But other than a first period that promised more, the home side was a letdown of its own, yet again.

And by the end, the boos – and "Let's Go Blue Jays" chants straight out of last season's collapse – were reserved mostly for them.

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