Ferguson staying patient

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:11 AM ET

When John Ferguson briefly stepped between the press box and the public elevator on Monday night, he was caught in the same blast furnance as his players for a 7-1 loss to Washington.

But the general manager had recovered yesterday and said he won't yet draw a line in the sand where his inconsistent team is concerned. No Marlies and no trades, at least for the next couple of days, with a welcome chance to get out of town again this weekend to New Jersey and Montreal.

"My take (on the crowd)? We have to give them a reason to cheer," Ferguson said last night. "We'll take the lessons from that game and apply them the rest of the week. The NHL schedule gives you an opportunity to respond."

The last time Ferguson felt there was a shakeup needed was after a 5-4 shootout loss to last-place Atlanta. He called up Jiri Tlusty and Anton Stralman and both played well in textbook wins in Pittsburgh and New York.

"The Marlies are playing well (6-0-0-1) and a number of their players are continuing to develop well," Ferguson said. "But to say we have a particular transaction in mind is not true."

Leafs players had yesterday off, no doubt thinking their team motto "The Passion That Unites Us All" now refers to the 19,000 boo-birds let lose every game night in the Air Canada Centre.

After Monday's loss showed how fragile the Leafs can be, it has become a lose-lose situation. Edgy fans expect the worse when the puck drops or even when the Leafs are ahead and a rattled team often delivers it.

"You deal with the booing," one Leaf said the other day, "But people should realize one thing. The more they boo, the less the good free agents are going to want to come here."

Many in the crowd were no doubt among those going ga-ga over a come-from-behind 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers, applauded a hard-fought overtime loss to Ottawa and thought an 8-1 romp over the New York Islanders cured all offensive woes. A record of 3-4-2 isn't the end of the world, but the Leafs can't keep playing .500 at home and hope to avoid a third consecutive year out of the playoffs.

"Unless we play .850 on the road," coach Paul Maurice said sarcastically after Monday's collapse. "It's not April yet, but we've got to be good at both. Look at the Rangers. They got booed louder than we did (and came back to win Monday)."

Leafs who've been here longer than Maurice can sense an opportunity to make life easier in the spring slip away at the ACC in October.

"We've seen that in previous years here," winger Chad Kilger said. "We tried it two times, it didn't work. We're crappy at home and it looks like we're heading in the same footsteps."

The Leafs never got the chance to establish the 'simple' game plan they had pledged to bring back from the road. Washington was on the board by 3:19 and though the Leafs came back in just 31 seconds, they fell into the old trap of trying to open up, playing right into the Caps' plans.


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