Senators up first for Leafs

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

After finding the door locked at home last autumn, the Maple Leafs need a Mr. October or two to smash it down in 2007.

The release of the 2007-08 National Hockey League schedule yesterday shows the Leafs' first month will be nearly identical to the home-friendly version which they almost wasted last year.

Despite 14 early-season Air Canada Centre dates, they entered December with a home record of 6-7-1, which contributed to them missing the playoffs by a point.

This year, they have nine at home in October, with four on the road.

"I think we had a number of new, young players last year and that nervousness showed with their play at home," coach Paul Maurice said. "Having gone through one year, we won't see that this time around. But I think we need to be good everywhere, rather than be strong in one and weak at the other. We played a lot better at home by the end of the schedule (nine consecutive wins), but by then our play fell off on the road (seven straight losses)."

The Leafs' 82-game schedule begins Oct. 3 at home against the Ottawa Senators and concludes April 5 in Montreal versus the Canadiens.

Maurice was less concerned about the number of times the Leafs play back-to-back this year (10 compared to 12 in last season) than how many three-in-four jam-a-thons are due (four, compared to five).

"A low number of back-to-backs helps, but we had seven in 12 days near the end that hurt us," Maurice said.

"You'll find great spots and difficult spots in every schedule."

Highlights of the Leafs' schedule:

- A renewal the Battle of Ontario with back-to-back games versus Ottawa to start the season Oct. 3-4.

- Sidney Crosby and the Penguins visit the Air Canada Centre Oct. 13 and Dec. 1.

- The Leafs meet the Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks on Jan. 9 as part of a three-game trip to California. Goaltender Vesa Toskala could face his old San Jose Sharks mates on Jan. 12.

- Play host to the Original Six Chicago Blackhawks on Oct. 20 and Detroit Red Wings on Feb. 9.

- Longest trip of the season is Dec. 14-27, six zig-zag games that go through Atlanta, Montreal, Carolina, Tampa Bay, Florida and Long Island.

- The Hall of Fame game is Nov. 10 at the ACC against the Rangers before Ron Francis, Al MacInnis, Mark Messier, Scott Stevens and Jim Gregory are inducted to the Hall.

- Jason Blake takes on his old Islanders for the first time on Oct. 11.

- Play the new-look Philadelphia Flyers in a home-and-home March 11-12.


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