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Maple Leafs head back to drawing board after loss to Montreal

TORONTO - Now the teacher has a little more material to work with.

That's one thing Ron Wilson was thinking after watching his Toronto Maple Leafs get blown out in their home opener on Saturday night. There isn't much time to regroup between games during an NHL season so Wilson had no trouble looking ahead after Montreal's 6-1 victory over the Maple Leafs.

"When we got down in the game, we just threw the plan out and everybody was just playing a survival type of game," he said. "(That's what) bad teams do. So we've got some teaching points to talk to our team about."

That's not something he had much of after the Leafs opened the season with a hard-earned victory in Detroit on Thursday. Wilson applauded his players in the aftermath of that game and indicated that he was pleased with the effort given by everyone in his lineup.

There seemed to be some carry-over early in Saturday's game against Montreal as the Maple Leafs came within a post or two of getting on the board first. After Roman Hamrlik and Alexei Kovalev scored quick goals for the Habs midway through the first period, the Leafs unravelled quickly.

Defenceman Pavel Kubina thinks his team "panicked" after falling behind for the first time in the young season.

"You never want to see night's like tonight," he said. "It's a tough night for our team. We've got to learn from our mistakes and be better on Monday."

That's when they'll host the St. Louis Blues in a rare afternoon game at the Air Canada Centre.

One thing Wilson planned to have his team work on before facing the Blues was its penalty killing. On Saturday, the Canadiens scored three power-play goals during a span of five and half minutes to blow the game wide open in the second period.

"They picked us apart," said Wilson.

Of course, the coach would prefer if there weren't so many penalties to kill. Somewhat lost in the victory over the Red Wings is the fact that Toronto was short-handed just three times all night. They gave Montreal eight man advantages.

Another concern for Wilson was the way some of his veterans played against the Canadiens. The Maple Leafs have 10 players on their roster that are 25 or under so the coach has high expectations from the few older guys in his dressing room.

He didn't name any of the culprits but he did send them a message by calling Mikhail Grabovski and Luke Schenn two of the team's best players in the home opener.

One thing everyone saw against Montreal is an example of just how good an opponent can be. The Habs are among the favourites in the Eastern Conference and it was pretty easy to understand why after watching their speed on Saturday night.

Against a team like that, the Maple Leafs will need the maximum effort possible to compete - otherwise, it will have to get accustomed to losing by large margins. That alone is something the team hopes to use as a learning experience.

"You've got to fall down to get back up again," said forward Niklas Hagman. "It's tough now but the next game comes quickly so we've just got to be better."

Added Alex Steen: "We have to get back to basics."

Ultimately, it's not much of a surprise that the team needs some work. Anyone who has spent time around the Maple Leafs has come to expect that they will have more than their share of rough games this season.

Wilson views those experiences as part of the process the rebuilding team must go through to get better.

"I sure hope it is," he said. "It's nothing more, nothing less. We just move on to the next one."


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