Fergie clings to hope for upswing

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:47 AM ET

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- To hear John Ferguson explain it, National Hockey League parity is as much to blame for his Maple Leafs scraping the bottom of the Eastern Conference barrel as their own ineptitude.

Emerging from nearly an hour with coach Paul Maurice after Saturday's shocking 5-1 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes and assessing an 0-2 road trip and six defeats in the past seven games, the general manager was asked to pinpoint what has gone wrong for his team.

A FINE LINE

"It's that fine a line between getting things done and not," Ferguson said, a copy of the NHL standings at his side. "Teams that were down are now up, teams that started 7-1 (Minnesota Wild) are now (even). But we're three games under (.500) and we know we have to get better."

Whether that's the GM's spin, Maurice's take or the consensus of three days of meetings of the Leafs hockey office, which attended road losses here and in Dallas, all concerned hope their bosses at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., are listening. If the Leafs' entourage thought Arizona was hot, they had better not see a repeat performance at home tomorrow against he Montreal Canadiens.

"It's not just any given day," Ferguson said of constant pressure to show MLSEL he has improved the team. "We came out here with spurts of solid play. We need to get more out of what we have on this team (versus a trade) and we're still looking for ways to do that.

"I thought the line of Jason Blake, Kyle Wellwood and Darcy Tucker did well at times tonight. That might be part of the first three lines we can start to roll out now."

Ferguson said the Leafs have played decent enough in terms of shots allowed to win games, holding foes to around 25 shots in the past seven games.

But have the Leafs already hit a dead end with their current roster?

Ferguson fell back on the party line that the team can't be properly judged until defencemen Carlo Colaiacovo and Pavel Kubina are healthy and Kyle Wellwood and Mark Bell hit stride after early season layoffs.

"We had Carlo in our top four or five defencemen in the summer," Ferguson pointed out.

But no team goes injury-free in 82 games and this could be as close as the unlucky Leafs have been to full health in years, at least at forward. And they won 40 games with a few spare parts last season, players such as John Pohl, Bates Battaglia and Boyd Devereaux, now regulars or semi-regulars.

Goaltending continues to haunt the Leafs, with Vesa Toskala good, but not great, and Andrew Raycroft still alternating nightly from hero to zero. Raycroft gave up two goals on seven shots against the Coyotes and was pulled, while a rusty Toskala was beaten on his first test.

"Andrew has to be better than he was (against Phoenix), but in that respect, he's no different than any other of our players," Ferguson said.

Ferguson won't yet do the roster juggling that would see what any Marlies can do, reluctant to disturb the farm team's chemistry unless injuries dictate otherwise.

"We like our group there," Ferguson said. "A number of guys there have created a hungry, internal competition."


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