TORONTO – The Toronto Maple Leafs are dead last in the NHL – and they’re going to spend at least one more week in the basement.
Brandon Dubinsky had a goal and an assist Saturday as the red-hot New York Rangers handed Toronto yet another loss, beating the Maple Leafs 4-1 in front of a disgruntled Air Canada Centre crowd.
Toronto and the New York Islanders are the only NHL teams that still haven’t won a game this season. The Leafs will face another week of questions about their lacklustre record because they don’t play again until next Saturday, when they open a five-game road trip in Vancouver.
“We’ve hit rock bottom,” said Leafs forward Lee Stempniak. “There’s no lower to go.”
The players plan to use the week of practice to try and repair their shaken psyches.
“This has been a tough stretch,” said Stajan. “I think maybe a week off might be beneficial. We’re going to have to make it beneficial because that’s the way the schedule is.”
Marc Staal, Michael Del Zotto and Enver Lisin also had goals for the Rangers (7-1-0). Marian Gaborik added two assists to give him points in all eight games he’s played since joining New York over the summer.
The Rangers were buoyed by a strong performance from Henrik Lundqvist, who made 34 saves and was the difference in the game according to Leafs coach Ron Wilson.
“I think when you boil it all down, Lundqvist was just unbelievable,” said Wilson.
The Rangers goalie succinctly summarized the difference between teams that are currently sitting at the top and bottom of the Eastern Conference.
“A lot of it is confidence,” said Lundqvist. “Even though we know we’re not having the best night, we have the confidence right now that we can win.”
Ian White had the lone goal for the Leafs (0-6-1).
A season that started with optimism for fans in Toronto has quickly turned into a nightmare. After missing the playoffs the last four years, the team appears to have taken another step in the wrong direction and has already been soundly booed at home on a number of occasions.
While several of the players acknowledged that Saturday’s jeers were warranted, the coach took issue with the reaction from the fans.
“I understand how frustrated the fans are – I do understand that,” said Wilson. “But booing doesn’t help.”
The coach has tried to keep the mood around his players light, having them play dodgeball in practice this week in an effort to ease the growing tension. It didn’t work.
The first period against New York was emblematic of the Leafs struggles as they emerged trailing 1-0 despite being the stronger team.
Toronto moved the puck nicely on an early power play and speedy forward Jason Blake had a breakaway, but the Leafs couldn’t put a puck behind Lundqvist in the opening 20 minutes.
“We have to find a way to score,” said Leafs defenceman Tomas Kaberle. “We’re making the goalie look good right now.”
Dubinsky gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead after skating in on a 3-on-1 and beating Joey MacDonald with a nice wrist shot at 16:00. It was his third goal of the season.
The Leafs have been outscored 11-2 by their opponents in first periods this season and haven’t been able to pull out of any of those early holes.
Two young Rangers defencemen quickly made this one a little larger. Staal beat MacDonald through the legs on a wraparound at 4:36 before the rookie Del Zotto made it 3-0 just over a minute later, scoring his third of the season on a shot from the point.
Suddenly, everything was dire for the desperate Maple Leafs.
“Once you get up two or three goals, you feel good,” said Lundqvist. “They feel like they have to score three goals to get back into it … and that’s tough to do.”
White managed to get one just 21 seconds after Del Zotto’s goal as he moved in from the point and banged a loose puck behind Lundqvist. The Rangers goalie had no chance with a big scrum of players on top of him.
Lisin quickly erased any notion of a comeback by roofing a shot over MacDonald at 2:26 of the third period after Leafs defenceman Jeff Finger attempted to block a shot, only to see the puck wind up on the Ranger player’s stick.
That sucked all of the life out of the building as several fans decided to head for the exits rather than stick around for the end. Those that stayed devoted most of their time to booing a Leafs team that is off to its worst start since going 1-6-1 in 1990-91.
The players are just as upset as the fanbase.
“It’s tough not winning seven games in a row,” said Kaberle. “You can feel it inside the dressing room.”
Interestingly enough, the most positive words about the Leafs situation came from Rangers coach John Tortorella. He was impressed with what he saw out of the opposition.
“That team played hard,” said Tortorella. “They’re in a little bit of a jam right now, but it’s a long year.”
Notes: Rangers forward Donald Brashear wears No. 87. He’s the only current player in the NHL other than Sidney Crosby to do so … Finger was minus-3 for Toronto … Former Leafs Mark Osborne, Bill Berg and Felix Potvin performed the ceremonial faceoff on “90’s Night” … Toronto took the warmup in retro jerseys adorned with names like Rouse, Macoun and Borschevsky… Garnet Exelby, Jamal Mayers and Nikolai Kulemin were scratched for the Leafs … Aaron Voros didn’t play for New York … Announced attendance was 19,295.