VANCOUVER, B.C. – It doesn’t matter to Kevin Bieksa that the Toronto Maple Leafs remain winless this NHL season.
The Vancouver Canucks defenceman just wants to see them lose again on Saturday.
“You never want to lose to Canadian teams, especially from the East, right?” the native of Grimsby, Ont., said with a broad smile after Friday’s practice.
“For me growing up just outside of Toronto, I never want to lose to them. I don’t care if the Leafs are winless or have 10 wins right now. We want to beat them no matter what.
“It’s a Canadian battle.”
Both clubs, who meet Saturday night (CBC, 7 p.m. ET), stumbled out of the gate but the 4-5 Canucks are within a game of .500 after their first road win against playoff nemesis Chicago.
The Leafs just need a win. Period.
They are the only team in the league without a victory at 0-6-1. They have allowed a league-worst 4.57 goals a game and are second last in scoring at two goals a game.
They are also last on the penalty kill while the Canucks rank fifth.
After missing the playoffs for four years, they have been roundly booed at the Air Canada Centre, which has emptied early most nights, because of their worst start since 1990-91.
Former Leaf Kyle Wellwood is looking forward to facing Toronto. He scored against them last year and, with only one assist to show for nine games, could use another on Saturday.
“I was fortunate to get one against Toronto last season and I’m hoping they’ll fix me again,” said Wellwood, who has new skates and changed his stick in hopes of snapping his scoring slump.
The Leafs have had a week to stew over their last game, a 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers, before starting a five-game road trip here.
Wellwood’s Canucks began their season 0-3 and flirted with the Western Conference cellar, so he doesn’t want his teammates to take their foot off the gas.
“When you get a team coming in after a week off you want to make sure you come at ’em in the first period and try and take over the game,” he said.
Toronto coach Ron Wilson, who has benched veterans, used a third-string goalie and saw one puck go in the net off the head of defenceman Mike Komisarek, used the layoff to work on defence.
He also injected fun into practice with a 3-on-3 tournament, but his players know the mood of their fans.
“We’re in a unique hockey market, we’re in a passionate hockey city,” said Komisarek, who jumped from the passion frying pan into the fire when he came to Toronto from Montreal as a free agent.
“The media scrutiny and the fans are going to get on you when you’re not performing. With that being said, you don’t dwell on that. You (think about) how good it is and how sweet it is when you are doing well.”
Fellow defenceman Francois Beauchemin, who joined the Leafs this season from Anaheim and leads Toronto in ice time, is looking for a new start from the road trip.
“We had a tough start obviously,” he said. “It was good to use those days off this week to get our heads clear and focus on what we have to do.”
Luke Schenn is looking to build momentum as the Canucks did on the road when they battled from behind in a 3-2 win over the Blackhawks.
“You’re playing every other day pretty much so hopefully we can get a little momentum and gain some confidence out on the road,” said the young Toronto blue-liner.
Henrik Sedin, who leads Vancouver with 11 points on three goals and eight assists, said the Canucks should be just as hungry as the Leafs.
“We’re one game behind .500 and we need to get back on track and play better so our work ethic (against Toronto) should be good,” he said.
Bieksa expects a physical game from the desperate Leafs.
“That’s kind of the way we like to play too. We like to play on that fine line of being aggressive. Probably the key against them would be to be disciplined.
“Most of the teams have taken advantage of them so far this season, hoping they’d take the extra penalty and make them pay on the power play.”
NOTES: Toronto goalie Jonas Gustavsson (groin) resumed practice Thursday and could return to the lineup against Vancouver … Toronto’s road trip continues with stops in Anaheim, Dallas, Buffalo and Montreal.