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Ottawa 5 Leafs 2

Guest Leach27

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With three minutes left in the second consecutive Saturday night woofer produced by the Maple Leafs, the press release dropped.

Had to be something big, right? A trade? Possibly the acquisition of a goalkeeper, a veteran, to steady the ride that’s been a little rocky ever since James Reimer went down with a concussion that the Leafs have tried to hide with the adroit touch of a 350-pound offensive lineman.

Or a call-up, perhaps? Time for Joe Colborne to ride in and rescue a Leaf attack that’s gone from explosive to burp-like? Or more pivotal firings and hirings among the assistant coaches?

Nope, none of the above. The urgent missive, we learned, was for the Leafs to announce a development deal with the Zurich Lions of the Swiss elite league, an arrangement that will cover “coaching, player development, roster management, social media, ticketing and security.” (Note to Zurich CEO Peter Zahner: MLSE is historically more proficient at the last three items than the first three.)

That’s nice. Obviously, the Luca Cereda experiment didn’t sour the Leafs on Switzerland entirely.

Meanwhile, down on the ice, the Leafs were briefly making a dreadful Hall of Fame weekend performance look not quite so squalid by drawing within one goal late in the third period, but then destroyed any value of that goal by pulling their goalie too early and allowing an easy empty-netter to Nick Foligno. Moments later, Clarke MacArthur accurately located his own undefended net from 180 feet away, officially recorded as No. 11 for Milan Michalek, who can still tell his grandchildren one day it was a solo rush finished by a snapper under the crossbar.

All in all, the 5-2 defeat was both deserved and a miserable reminder for Leaf fans that despite early-season success, this is anything but a complete, consistent squad they are cheering for in the 2011-12 campaign.

Given that Ottawa came in having lost five straight and had played the night before in Buffalo, you could make the argument that this Leaf performance was even worse than dropping one by a converted touchdown to Boston seven days earlier.

After all, the Bruins are at least Stanley Cup champions. The Senators, on the other hand, were supposed to be bottom-feeders this season, candidates to select Mikhail Grigorenko or Nail Yakupov or whatever teenager is deemed most worthy of the No. 1 pick in next summer’s draft in Pittsburgh. Instead, it’s worth noting that they have eight wins to 10 for the Leafs, not quite the separation in the standings many believed would be the case.

The visiting Sens looked tired for a period and a half before noteworthy hockey royalty including the four newest inductees, failing to register a single shot on Ben Scrivens through the opening 13 minutes. But teams that play the Leafs know that if you give Ron Wilson’s team a little rope in a tight match, just as often as not you’ll be rewarded.

Sometimes it’s penalties. Sometimes it’s breakaways appearing out of nowhere. Sometimes it’s forwards not bothering to cover for D-men. Sometimes it’s the absence of a big save.

Sometimes, it’s all of the above, as was the case against the Sens.

These small issues become big ones when the Leaf offence dries up, as it has, helping produce three losses in the last four outings. No reason to overreact or declare a Leaf crisis, but it’s clear that the preference of Wilson and Brian Burke to play an attack-first, defend-if-we-must style of hockey all or most of the time is going to be tested severely whenever the opponent is willing and able to construct a tight-checking environment.

That will certainly be a challenge next week in games against stingy Phoenix (home) and hard-checking Nashville (road) before returning for a Saturday home date with Washington, the first time this season the Leafs have had to face three teams that were playoff outfits last spring in a single week.

Two key sequences stood out from the latest loss to Ottawa. First were the back-to-back penalties, both of them dumb, by Tyler Bozak (holding in the offensive zone) then Philippe (Rickard Wallin) Dupuis (high-sticking and cutting Foligno off a faceoff) that allowed the Sens to score on a 5-on-3 and pull ahead 2-1. It wasn’t just any goal, but one of those breakaways the Leafs cough up with peculiar frequency, with Foligno slicing between dozing Leaf backliners Jake Gardiner and Mike Komisarek.

The third Ottawa goal, which stood up as the winner, came off a 2-on-1 break when Dion Phaneuf carried the puck in deep and none of the three Leaf forwards did the Hockey 101 thing and slid back in formation to cover for the captain.

Again, no reason for panic. The win in St. Louis on Thursday saved what might have been an 0-for-4 week, and now three tough assignments lie ahead.

Perhaps the good folks with the Zurich Lions have some ideas that might help.

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