Leafs aiming to find road to success

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:20 AM ET

Though it's too early to hang Paul Maurice by his own words about making the playoffs and competing for the Cup, the Maple Leafs coach should take back his cavalier comments about the value of an early season homestand.

Pooh-poohing the notion that nine home games in October could be the determining factor in a playoff spot -- "no month is less important than another," Maurice assured at camp -- the Leafs harvested just eight points in eight Air Canada Centre games. The last six matches saw the opposition start its reserve goaltender, the last three teams were equally shaky playoff contenders and almost all the games included blown third-period leads.

Now the Leafs embark upon four of the next five on the road, 10 of 16 overall, starting tonight in Pittsburgh where the Penguins definitely will start No. 1 Marc-Andre Fleury coming off a 36-save shutout of the New York Rangers.

Toronto is trying to avoid a 10th consecutive road loss, seven to close out last year and two against Ottawa and Buffalo so far this month. But as quickly as the last of the "winnable" games evaporated with Tuesday's 5-4 shootout loss to the last-place Atlanta Thrashers, the Leafs were talking up the advantages of escaping the local spotlight.

After Pittsburgh comes a rare Saturday night game in Manhattan, then the next two weekends see them in New Jersey, Montreal and Buffalo.

"Just to be in a different arena, to wear our different (white) sweaters, could be what we need," centre John Pohl said yesterday at Lakeshore Lions Arena. "Even if we were undefeated at this point, I think it will be beneficial to get away."

Captain Mats Sundin has been asked about the Leafs' home-road conflict for the best part of 12 years and seems to be at a loss for an explanation.

"It's disappointing, but it is what it is," he said. "Sometimes, going out on the road is better, hanging out together."

Since he was given the "C" 10 years ago, Sundin sometimes has come up with a small bonding exercise on the road, such as stopping the team bus at the video store and buying some episodes of The Simpsons to relive tension. But just getting to the airport yesterday was a relief, never mind if Sidney Crosby and a hostile back-and-gold welcoming committee is waiting.

"Just going out on the road is a blessing right now," winger Jason Blake said.


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