Where's the Defense?

The Toronto Maple Leafs are hoping to return to the playoffs after a two-year absence. Being the league's worst defensive team is not going to help them get there.

The Maple Leafs look to win their third consecutive road game Friday night when they play the first of four straight away from home against the New Jersey Devils.

Oddsmakers from SBG Global have made New Jersey -139 money line favorites (NHL Odds) for today's game, the over/under has been set at 5.5 goals (Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 57% of bets for this game have been placed on New Jersey -139 (View NHL Bet Percentages).

A weak defense and suspect goaltending have been issues for Toronto the past two seasons, and those problems were not corrected in the first month of 2007-08.

The Maple Leafs (5-5-3) have allowed a league-high 52 goals while neither Vesa Toskala nor Andrew Raycroft have played well enough to seize control of the No. 1 goaltender's job.

Toskala has four of the team's five wins but his 3.73 goals-against average ranks 41st in the NHL. Raycroft, meanwhile is 1-1-2 with a 3.67 GAA.

Injuries also have contributed to the team's poor defensive play. Defensemen Bryan McCabe (groin) and Carlo Colaiacovo (knee) are currently out of the lineup, as are forwards Darcy Tucker (knee), Kyle Wellwood (groin) and Mark Bell (suspension).

Although they already have a pair of 7-1 losses this season, the Leafs have remained mostly competitive due largely to their play on offense, as they rank among the league's best with 47 goals.

Captain Mats Sundin is off to an impressive start with six goals and a team-best 19 points, while center Nik Antropov is on pace for a career season with eight goals and seven assists.

Free-agent acquisition Jason Blake has two goals and 11 assists in his first season with Toronto.

"We've got to play better,'' Blake told the team's official Web site. "We're a .500 team right now and we had nine games in October at home. What does that tell you? It's not very good.''

After beating Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers on the road, the Leafs returned home Monday and were embarrassed 7-1 by a Washington team that was missing three of its top players.

Toronto had the luxury of playing nine of its first 13 games at home but only went 3-4-2 in that span.

"Just collectively, for some reason, we're very fragile at home,'' Sundin said. "How do I explain it? I can't. Just too many breakdowns all over the ice. We did a lot of good things on the road but it seems we're tight at home, we try to do too much.''

This will be just the third home game of the season for the Devils (4-6-1), who played their first nine contests on the road while construction of their new arena was completed.

New Jersey ended a four-game losing streak and recorded its first win at the Prudential Center on Thursday, getting a hat trick from defensive specialist Jay Pandolfo in a 6-1 victory over Tampa Bay.

The six goals matched a season high and were two more than the Devils had during their four-game skid.

"It's nice to get confidence,'' Pandolfo said. ``We've obviously struggled this year. If we can keep doing that, and gain some confidence by scoring goals at home, it will be fun.''

Martin Brodeur, who recorded his 497th win Wednesday, is 12-14-1 with seven ties and a 2.48 GAA in 35 starts against the Maple Leafs. They are one of only two teams (Vancouver) against which he has a losing record.

Toronto is 7-1-1 in the past nine meetings overall, recording at least one point in seven straight visits to New Jersey.

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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