Tough schedule for Leafs

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:25 AM ET

This is not a call for mass panic within the borders of Maple Leaf Nation. After all, its inhabitants need no such encouragement because chronic anxiety is a basic requirement of citizenship.

But, consider the circumstances. The Leafs are 0-for-2. Tonight they're in Ottawa against what many believe is the best team in the NHL. Tuesday, the face the Philadelphia Flyers, another elite club. Friday, they play the Atlanta Thrashers who have scored 15 goals in their last two games. And then Saturday the Leafs are in Montreal for a rematch against the up-to-now unbeaten Montreal Canadiens.

Gulp.

A bit of simple math tells us that if things don't shape up and shape up quickly, Toronto could be still winless this time next week, with six games gone from the schedule.

"Yeah, we've got a tough schedule," agreed Eric Lindros, who has been Toronto's best player to date. "We've got our work cut out for us."

This coming week might not have seemed quite so daunting had the Leafs been able to hold the lead late in both their first two games. Against Ottawa they led with just over a minute to go, yet gave up the tying goal, survived overtime, then lost in a shootout. Against Montreal on Saturday, two late goals sealed another loss, bringing into sharp focus the team's shortcomings, both defensively and offensively.

This is a team that, for whatever reason, was not ready to start the season. The talent is not yet on the same page, partly because there are so many new key players and partly because the Leafs spent much of their camp evaluating, rather than preparing. It doesn't help that the captain, Mats Sundin, is out for the foreseeable future.

"Our training camp was okay, but not really strong," said head coach Pat Quinn. "We haven't got that teamwork coming together yet. It's hard to be a real force when the other teams are coming in ready.

"Certainly Ottawa stayed with their regular lineup right from the start (of training camp). It looks like a good decision they made. A number of other teams did the same sort of thing. I know Philadelphia did.

"It is what it is and we are where we are right now. We are not doing the fundamentals that lead to good teamwork."

"We're all looking at the bad things and the bad things are that we messed up and we messed up in what seem to be fundamental areas. But we did some good things.

"When you work hard and you have a chance to win, you need to win. And we found a way not to. When you have a chance to win, you have to close the door."

Having said that, Quinn is not about to pull the rug out from some of his under-achievers. Wade Belak and Aki Berg were raked over the coals after Saturday's game but they had plenty of other co-conspirators who slid under the radar.

"Right now we're trying to build some team work, we're trying to build some confidence," said Quinn. "I don't want them feeling they're on a jerky string right off the bat, because that will do more damage to their confidence which is already kind of shallow right now anyway.

"After a night like that, you know you're bad. So they're sitting there wondering if the coach is going to give them another chance; they should know they're going to get a chance to do this right.

"If it continues, you do something. I don't expect that's going to happen."

That's not to say that Quinn gave his players a free pass. While no one outside the huddle of players could hear just what was said yesterday morning at practice, he gave the entire bunch of them a thorough airing-out and presided over a vigorous workout.

It may be early in the new NHL season, but it could get late really fast. 


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