Stajan has to step up

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:44 AM ET

There is one way out the doghouse and that is to stop dogging it.

That, in essence, was the message from Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson to veteran centre Matt Stajan yesterday.

Stajan was a healthy scratch in Toronto's 5-4 shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues on Monday and the fifth-year NHLer was devastated by Wilson's decision to sit him.

The Mississauga native likely will suit up tomorrow at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers, but only because winger Ryan Hollweg, who played in place of Stajan on Monday, has been slapped with a three-game suspension by the NHL for running St. Louis defenceman Alex Pietrangelo from behind.

"Matt has just got to play better than he has been playing, period," said Wilson, when asked what Stajan has to do to get back into the lineup on a regular basis. "I have nothing more to add to that."

Stajan admitted that he is having a difficult time with the coach's decision to sit him. Even when he played, Wilson slapped him on the fourth line, alongside grinders Jamal Mayers and John Mitchell. He also was passed over to wear one of the five 'A's as an alternate captain on the captain-less Leafs. Stajan said that he is at a loss as to exactly what Wilson expects from him.

"I really don't know," Stajan said, when asked if he thought Wilson's expectations for him were reasonable. "We really haven't had the chance to talk about it.

"The way I play is the way I play. I think Ron just wants some consistency, I guess. I'm not going to lie to you guys, you watched the games. I've been battling the puck a bit. Sometimes confidence goes up, goes down. I've seen (it go down) with my ice time going down. I just have to keep working."

Stajan, 24, played all 82 games for Toronto during each of the past two seasons, and 80 during 2005-06 campaign. He admitted that watching from the press box as his team played was a depressing order of events, especially considering who he has to sit with.

"Yeah, it's tough," said Stajan, who scored 16 goals last season. "You play in this league and you don't want to come to the rink on a game day and take the warmup and find out you're not playing. It's not easy to do. It's not fun.

"I have to regroup here and keep my head up high. If I get down on myself, it's just going to be build up and make things worse. I just have to figure this out for myself and come to the rink with my head up and play hard. Hopefully it will all work out."

Stajan's primary obstacle seems to be that he is having trouble adjusting to Wilson's fast-paced forechecking system. That, and the fact he has taken some untimely penalties.

"Well, other guys have adjusted, he hasn't," Wilson said when asked about Stajan's struggles. "He's probably finding out what the parameters of the job are."

Wilson is hoping that Stajan simply plays better tomorrow against the red-hot Rangers.

"It's up to Matt to bring his best, game in and game out," Wilson said. "If he's admittedly, as he said, struggling, I have a right, and an obligation, as a coach of the team, to put in the people who are playing at the best of their game right now."


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