Practice makes some tired Leafs

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:58 AM ET

By no means was Carlo Colaiacovo the only Maple Leaf sucking wind at various points of yesterday's high-pace practice at the Air Canada Centre.

But at one inopportune moment, he caught the eye of coach Ron Wilson.

"You look like you're dying out here, Carlo," Wilson chided. "Are you going to make it through practice?"

The sadistic side of Wilson was living large at the extended workout, the first of three consecutive days of practice before the Leafs meet the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night.

His players? Well, they knew this was coming.

"Especially when you've got three days before a game, everyone knew today was going to be a tough one," Colaiacovo said. "It's nice to keep it upbeat in practice and have fun out there. "

While yesterday's session was designated as a conditioning day, Wilson takes practice seriously, putting together a blueprint the night before with the intention of both stimulating and educating his players.

"(Three consecutive days of workouts) is more challenging for the coaches than it is for the players because you want to accomplish things, but not bore them to death," Wilson said. "I don't like to do the same little things all the time. I've been around long enough and played on enough teams in different countries to have a repertoire of drills I can go to.

"Our guys, generally speaking, have practised hard. You can see it. Whatever we may lack in skill and certain areas of our game, no one can ever say anything about our work ethic and determination. We are in every game."

That fitness level was in evidence in the final two periods of Monday's 3-2 loss to the Bruins. The Leafs had just returned from a three-game Western Canadian road swing yet still had legs to press Boston through the second and third periods.

"With a few days off, it's good to get out there and have a good sweat," forward Jason Blake said. "It's tough coming to the rink and doing the same drills, the same everything. (The Leafs coaching staff) do a good job in that respect."

Wilson said the next two days will be used to address some problem areas, with penalty-killing and team defence at the top of the list.

Meanwhile, Alex Steen, who had a season-low 9:58 of ice time on Monday as he continues to struggle offensively, skated with the fourth-liners yesterday. Wilson said it is unlikely Steen will be the next veteran to sit out, but is still searching for the best linemates for the fourth-year Leaf.

"He's been a valuable part of the penalty-kill," Wilson said. "We're still trying to find the best chemistry in our lines."

Steen, with just two goals and two assists in 19 games, admits to being disappointed with his slide down the depth chart.

"I'm not going to lie. Obviously, it gets frustrating at times," Steen said. "But getting down on yourself and feeling sorry for yourself isn't going to get you anywhere, The only way out is to work your way out. You've got to plow your way through it."


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