Buds in workout overload

Leafs captain Mat Sundin shows the strain at practice after coach Paul Maurice put the team through...

Leafs captain Mat Sundin shows the strain at practice after coach Paul Maurice put the team through a gruelling number of skating drills yesterday. (SUN MEDIA/Michael Peake)

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:30 AM ET

There were so many tongues hanging out at Maple Leafs practice yesterday, you would have thought Lakeshore Lions Arena was playingt host to a KISS concert.

Guitarist Paul Stanley was not in the house toting his axe, but coach Paul Maurice certainly was there, tooting his whistle repeatedly as his Maple Leafs were skated into the frosty ground.

Maurice claimed the exhausting on-ice workout had been planned for weeks and was not punishment for a team that had been humiliated 7-1 on home ice in front of a booing throng Monday at the Air Canada Centre.

Whatever the motivation, a proverbial boot in the hockey pants was well deserved, a prescription that might be just what the doctor ordered for a team that will play its next four games on the road.

"On a day that was so physically gruelling, there was not a lot of talk out there,"Maurice said.

"(This) was about getting their legs burning and about conditioning."

Maurice's ears likely were burning the past several days at the sound of fans howling for changes in the team's hierarchy after the Washington debacle.

General manager John Ferguson has been the target for the majority of the public outcry.

But Maurice feels the blame for the team's inconsistencies remains on his own shoulders.

"It's mine," Maurice said. "How they perform is my responsibility.

"I still felt that if we would have scored the other night to narrow the score to 4-2, we had a chance.

"But there are no excuses. "It's my job to have them ready."

Because the Leafs had a three-game layoff between games, Maurice said the skate-heavy workout was always in the works, especially with the team enjoying a day off on Tuesday.

"Any time you have a day off you have to come back ready to work," forward Jason Blake said.

"It's not a lot of fun doing it but we have to push each other in these situations.

"I don't think there was any message being sent here. We're just not getting the job done. We're not going to win every game but, the fact remains, we must compete hard in every game.

"We have to play better. We're a .500 team that already had nine games at home in the month of October."

After completing its midday workout, the team is scheduled to wing its way to Newark this afternoon for a date with the New Jersey Devils tomorrow night at the new Prudential Center, which already has earned the nickname "The Rock."

The Leafs' travels will then take them to Montreal for a date with the rival Canadiens Saturday night followed by a matchup with the Ottawa Senators Tuesday.

They'll finish off the odyssey Nov. 9 in Buffalo before returning home to host the annual Hall of Fame game against the New York Rangers the following night at the Air Canada Centre.

After yesterday's drills, this team should have no problems finding its collective skating legs.

"We had a few of these (skating) sessions early last season," defenceman IanWhite said.

"But I would say that from December on, this would have been the toughest."

A few more lopsided losses, and these skate-til-you-drop workouts could very well become the norm.


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