Leafs find a way to the box

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 1:46 PM ET

VANCOUVER -- When you are the only winless team in the National Hockey League, moral victories would seem pretty useless, especially to a panicking fan base three time zones to the east.

But somehow, in this, the worst start by any Maple Leaf team in franchise history, coach Ron Wilson is going to have to find some way, any way, to get his team to build on its hard-fought 3-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks last night at GM Place.

The 0-7-1 beginning to the 2009-10 campaign eclipsed the 0-6-1 mark posted by the 1990-91 team, giving this Leafs team a dubious entry in the record book.

Yes, it would be fair to say the Leafs were the better team in this one, outshooting the Canucks 36-25. Only the heroics of Vancouver's all-world goalie Roberto Luongo kept Toronto from posting its first regular-season victory since April 11, when the Leafs beat the Ottawa Senators 5-2.

And yes, they should have received a penalty shot with less than five minutes left when a Canucks player put his glove on the puck in the Vancouver crease, a flagrant foul caught by the tele vision cameras but not the zebras. Trailing just 2-1 at the time, it would have been the perfect opportunity to tie the game.

But there can be no excuses, not even about facing a hot goalie or dealing with poor officiating. Not when you have gone eight consecutive games without a victory.

Not even some of those putrid squads of the Harold Ballard era managed to come out of the gates this poorly.

Stupid penalties remain a glaring Achilles heel. Five consecutive minors in the first period resulted in two Canucks power-play goals, a hill that proved too steep to climb for Toronto.

"That's been our downfall the past few years I've been here and it seems to be going that way again," defenceman Ian White said of the penalties. "(The results) are not going to change unless we find ways to stop going into the box."

So, what now?

How does the free-fall stop?

Maybe having a healthy Jonas Gustavsson strap on the pads tomorrow against Anaheim might be a solution. Then again, Joey MacDonald didn't play poorly last night, allowing just a pair of goals including one that was accidentally fired into the net by teammate Mike Komisarek.

"The desperation was there," Komisarek said, "But we haven't had the wins we've wanted.

"We just can't give up hope or stop believing in each other."

Even if the fans in Toronto might be doing just that.

Gustavsson, who is coming off a groin injury, did not dress last night but said he is feeling better. It is still possible that he starts tomorrow.

Luongo, meanwhile, was in top form. His best stop came off rookie Viktor Stalberg, who seemed to be looking at an empty net until a lunging Luongo stopped his attempt early in the first period.

"It's frustrating," Stalberg said. "We have to bury those chances."

Cue the penalty stupidity.

And another loss.

If Wilson doesn't have enough on his plate, one of his former players has come out publicly saying he is "not a good coach."

"Where it breaks down is he can't motivate players, he doesn't know what to do with players when there's controversy and they are losing," ex-NHLer Jim Thomson told TSN's Off The Record.

With each loss, the criticism piles up.

As for Leafs GM Brian Burke, he had a stern look on his face as he and the team left GM Place for Anaheim.

One thing we know about the Leafs president: He likes on-ice victories more than moral ones.

And, to that end, his team is still 0-for-the-season.

Unacceptable.

MIKE.ZEISBERGER@SUNMEDIA.CA


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