Early birds get the Leafs

(AP Photo/Doug Mills)

(AP Photo/Doug Mills)

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:34 AM ET

Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson preaches defence-first hockey.

Apparently, the congregation isn't listening.

In an almost shocking turn of events, the Leafs (prior to last night's games) have given up a league-leading 51 goals in 14 games, many of them early. In fact, Toronto has fallen behind in nine of its 14 games, often by two goals. In their 5-2 loss at the TD Banknorth Garden to the Boston Bruins on Thursday night, the Leafs trailed 3-0 after two periods.

Another problem in terms of goals against, is penalty killing -- another area where Wilson-coached teams have excelled in the past. The Leafs are dead last in penalty-killing, with a 73.2% success rate, having given up 15 goals in 56 times short-handed situations.

One other problem -- and there seems to be some disagreement here -- Toronto's goaltending has not been great. Vesa Toskala sits near the bottom of most statistical categories, including save percentage (26th, .886%) and goals against (23rd, 3.09). Backup Curtis Joseph has fared even worse. In four appearances, he has a save percentage of .862% and a goals-against average of 3.91.

For Wilson, it's pretty simple: Toskala has to make more key saves early in games.

"He can play better and that's what he is (working on) in practice," said Wilson, following a workout yesterday at Lakeshore Lions Arena. "We're going to need a save here and there, like any team does. Unfortunately, we've gotten behind the 8-ball a lot of games where we could have used a save."

For his part, Toskala believes his play has been just dandy.

"I've actually been feeling really, really good," the Finn said. "I feel I haven't let in too many bad goals."

In any event, the stats speak for themselves. On the other hand, it's difficult for a goalie to make saves when pucks are going in off his own defencemen, which has happened on at least two occasions recently, and when the club is weak on the penalty-kill.

Beyond a key early save or two, Wilson is at a loss to explain why his club is starting so slowly. Prior to Thursday, he suggested he was going to secure a big pot of coffee for the dressing room. It didn't work.

"Apparently, they put decaf (in the pot)," Wilson quipped. "I didn't taste it, I would have been able to tell the difference.

"We're just going to have to play better," he said. "There's no magic fairy dust I can sprinkle to make them ready."

On an upbeat note, the Leafs do lead the league in blocked shots (225), although Wilson scowled when it was suggested that such endeavours lead to injuries.

"If you're not trying to block a shot, you get hit in the face with a puck," Wilson said. "In hockey, things happen. (Injuries have) nothing to do with blocking shots. Generally, if you do it right, you're never going to get hurt."


Videos

Photos