Leafs lack firepower

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:33 AM ET

You have to give Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson some credit.

The man seems to be doing his best to make mud pie from a load of muck.

Wilson is grumpy and crusty, and often insightful and funny, but more important than all that, he has his team playing hard.

Wilson has installed an improved work ethic, not only in games, but in practices -- to the point where many veterans from last year's team are having trouble keeping up.

He has his team playing an up-tempo forechecking style, which is surprisingly entertaining, although not particularly effective. (The Leafs have scored nine goals in five games).

He has put lines together that he thinks/hopes/prays will have the best chance of scoring, and while he has pretty well stayed with the nucleus of four forward units, he has made changes on the fly to generate some scoring and energy, such as inserting Matt Stajan on the so-called No.1 line with Nik Antropov and Jason Blake midway through the game in New York on Friday.

He then tried rookie John Mitchell on that line part way through Saturday's game in Pittsburgh -- both times at the expense of a lagging Alexei Ponikarovsky.

And Wilson hasn't been shy to call out players -- mostly veteran players -- for not playing hard, or tough, and has made waves with a few of his healthy scratches, such as when he sat out veterans Stajan and Carlo Colaiacovo.

Wilson has used mind games in his own defence as well as repeatedly suggesting that he is up against evil and powerful forces, mainly previous Leafs regimes that allowed the players to become lazy and lethargic and not committed to doing the unpleasant things it takes to win, such as blocking shots.

Not until around Christmas, Wilson has said, will all the players reach the conditioning level he expects.

And then, how much of a difference will that make?

Not a lot.

As someone deep once said: "It is what it is."

No matter how hard Wilson pushes, how quick his players adapt to his system, no matter how many saves Vesa Toskala makes, this Leafs team, which has four points in five games, isn't going to do better than it is now. The season is early, but the blue and white is going to win only when it holds the opposition to one or two goals.

There is some skill on this squad, but little firepower. Mikhail Grabovski, who supposedly is super-skilled, has zero points in five games.

Ponikarovsky seems to be on another planet. Whipping boy Stajan doesn't seem to know whether he is coming or going. Ryan Hollweg can't help himself.

Sure, there are some positives. Luke Schenn has been rock solid, and shouldn't go anywhere near Kelowna this season.

Niklas Hagman has been a revelation. Jonas Frogren plays his heart out and brings a toughness to games that is in short supply on the Leafs. And Toskala has been generally good.

But when you can't score, you can't win.

And until they draft or trade for a scorer or two, it's going to be much of the same in Leafland.


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