Trouble in T.O.

After watching the Toronto Maple Leafs look lifeless and disinterested in a 5-0 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday, Gurnee-based blogstatician Chris Altruda and I were kicking around who will be the next NHL coach to be fired.

It appears to be a choice between Marc Crawford of the Los Angeles Kings or the Leafs' Paul Maurice.

That choice perhaps became a little clearer on Thursday. With as poorly as his team has played recently, is there any question Maurice -- and probably general manager John Ferguson Jr. -- will next be shown the door?

A 5-2 loss to the league-doormat Kings on Thursday dropped the Leafs to 16-20-8 this season, burying them further in the basement of the Northeast Division. Facing a team coming off its worst home loss in nearly seven years, Andrew Raycroft stopped just seven of 11 first-period shots before being replaced by Vesa Toskala. Playing in only his second game after missing nearly three weeks with a groin injury, Toskala stopped 12 shots over the last 40 minutes.

More telling, the Leafs dropped to 0-11-1 this season when allowing at least five goals. Ferguson traded away goaltending prospect Tuukka Rask before the start of last season to the Boston Bruins for Raycroft, now 0-6-2 with a 5.12 goals-against average since last winning against the Buffalo Sabres on Nov. 9.

What would help this bunch? Recalling 21-year-old Justin Pogge from the AHL for a start. Picked 90th overall in 2004 -- one season before Rask -- Pogge was 13-3-4 with a 2.27 GAA and two shutouts heading into play for the crosstown Marlies on Thursday.

Alexei Ponikarovsky and Darcy Tucker scored on Thursday as Toronto fired a season-high 50 shots on the road, but have been outscored 18-4 against the Pacific Division this season.

"It's a frustrating time, but we can't get too down on ourselves or irritated or frustrated," Alex Steen said. "We need to keep our heads up and our spirits up and make sure we turn this around. We've still got half a season to go here."

A big question also remains what to do about Mats Sundin. The Leafs' longtime captain became the franchise's all-time leading scorer earlier this season, and needs one more goal to tie Maurice "Rocket" Richard for 24th all-time with 544. A big push over the remainder of the season -- 17 more goals -- would move Sundin past Michel Goulet, Ron Francis, John Bucyk and Guy Lafleur into the top 20.

Sundin, who's been the subject of recent trade rumors (Anaheim? Pittsburgh? San Jose? Montreal?), turns 37 next month and his goal total has dropped each season since tallying 41 in 2001-02

The Maple Leafs haven't won the Stanley Cup since 1967, and the closest they'll get to it is to pay admission at the Hockey Hall of Fame in downtown T.O.

It's time for change -- again


1. Scott Hartnell, Philadelphia Flyers: Hartnell scored three straight goals for his second career NHL hat trick in the Flyers' 6-2 win over the New York Rangers. The left wing had only four goals in his previous 16 games.

2. Dean McAmmond, Ottawa Senators:McAmmond ended a shootout in the sixth round, lifting Ottawa to a 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres, losers of eight straight.

3. Josh Harding, Minnesota Wild: Harding made 26 saves in relief of an ineffective Niklas Backstrom as the Wild topped the league-leading Detroit Red Wings, 6-5 in a shootout.

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