Leafs coach looks to road to tighten things up

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:31 AM ET

If there is no place like home for a young hockey team, Ron Wilson thinks that, this early in the season, it may be for the wrong reasons.

So, even though two of the better teams in the Eastern Conference await, the Maple Leafs coach is looking forward to back-to-back road games beginning tonight against the Rangers in Manhattan.

"You saw us play a relatively simple but aggressive game in Detroit and we were very successful doing it," Wilson said yesterday. "Right now, it might actually be a little bit easier to do what are we are asking our team to do on the road without feeling the pressure of the home crowd. That might lead us to opening things up as we have in our two home games.

"We have to play a lot tighter at the right time of games and it's a lot easier to settle on the road."

While the Leafs were never truly in the 6-1 loss to Montreal on Saturday night, they squandered a 3-0 lead to St. Louis before losing 5-4 in a Monday matinee shootout.

What bothered Wilson about the latter effort was the fact that the team was slugging it out offensively with the Blues late in the game, a strategy that ultimately could have cost them.

"We were trading chances with a team that might have a bit more firepower up front and that's not really the way to win hockey games," Wilson said.

It certainly wouldn't be the favoured approach against the Rangers, who have sprinted out to a 5-1 start and tomorrow against the Pens (2-1-1 prior to last night) who are loaded with offensive weapons.

With Ryan Hollweg suspended again for his hit on the Blues' Alex Pietrangelo, Matt Stajan is expected to emerge from Wilson's doghouse and return to the lineup.

The coach also suggested that Curtis Joseph will get his first start of the season in one of the games and that defenceman Jonas Frogren, who bruised his foot against Montreal, is healthy and will be a "coach's decision."

The next two nights are just the latest in a gruelling start that has seen the work-in-progress Leafs face Detroit and Montreal, teams expected to battle for their respective conference titles.

"We're 1-1-1 and we're only going to get better," said Leafs forward Dominic Moore, who has been one of the more energetic players in those three games.

"These challenges are good for us. The best way to learn how to swim is to go right into the pool.

"It will be a good chance for us to get on the road to spend some time with each other."


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