TORONTO – Ron Wilson made good on his promise to give the Toronto Maple Leafs a hard skate.
The coach was much calmer the morning after a 2-1 loss to Ottawa, but that didn’t keep him from sending a message at practice on Wednesday. The Leaf players faced more than 10 minutes of straight skating to kick things off and had other tough drills sprinkled throughout practice.
Even though the team has played just three games so far, many of the players didn’t object to the timing of such a hard workout.
“It’s never too early,” said forward Alexei Ponikarovsky. “It’s just the way it is. You play a bad game, you just have to set your mind straight. To do that, you go through a hard practice and you know what needs to be done.”
Added linemate Niklas Hagman: “It had quite a bit of skating. It was fairly tough.”
Wilson was visibly upset in the wake of Tuesday’s loss to the Senators, saying the team “stunk” while promising a tough practice to try and wake his players up.
The coach felt the team didn’t compete hard enough to make it difficult for Ottawa to play a road game at the Air Canada Centre. Moving forward, he hopes that shorter shifts help give the Leafs more energy.
“It’s physiologically impossible to go all out for even more than 25 or 30 seconds,” said Wilson. “Part of today was to illustrate that.”
Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson was kept out of Wednesday’s practice because of a sore groin, but is expected to be back on the ice Thursday.
Rookie winger Viktor Stalberg was also absent after suffering a head injury following a vicious – and clean – hit by Ottawa’s Anton Volchenkov. There was no timetable offered for his return.
Toronto’s next game won’t come until Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins visit on Saturday night. After an 0-2-1 start, the Leafs are anxious to get a victory.
“We’ve got to figure this thing out quickly because those are valuable points we’re giving up,” said forward Matt Stajan, who leads the team with three goals.
Wilson wants the Leafs to embrace that sense of urgency.
There is still the expectation that this team will compete for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and everyone expects the post-season race to be tight.
“We want to be a playoff team and letting points go – especially to a divisional opponents at home – isn’t the best way to go about making the playoffs,” said Wilson.
After the coach’s post-game comments, there were no surprises awaiting the players when they showed up for work on Wednesday morning.
Defencemen Garnet Exelby and Luke Schenn were the first to take the ice and the rest of their teammates all followed ahead of the noon start time. They were all ready to skate.
“When you play like that you want to show up the next day and practice hard,” said Hagman.
Even though some of the team’s fans have quickly forgotten the optimism that surrounded the opening of a new season, the Leafs players are trying to remain confident.
“We have faith in ourselves that we know that we can do it,” said Hagman. “We’ve just got to dig in and get the job done.”