Leafs losing, get used to it!

ROB LONGLEY, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 10:06 AM ET

Ron Wilson can claim, as he did with a straight (and scowling) face the other day, that he doesn't look at the NHL standings to see how low his team can go.

No wonder. It must be hard enough to keep his eyes on the almost nightly disasters unfolding on the ice of late.

When Wilson declared after Friday's 4-3 overtime loss to Atlanta that the Leafs "are not a good team," consider it a warning for what awaits. That and giving Don Cherry a mouthful of material.

There has been an accepted grace period for this stripped of talent team that now is running low on fuel. It doesn't mean discriminating viewers have to like what they see, however.

For season-ticket holders, Leafs TV subscribers and Hockey Night in Canada audiences that drive ratings for Canada's most watched sports program, it's hardly a ringing endorsement for the months of programming ahead.

But what you've seen the past month, is in all likelihood what you are going to get the rest of the way.

The debacle in Atlanta had Wilson in a crusty state and for good reason. The Thrashers not only easily erased a 3-0 Leafs lead, but did so against a team that should have learned its lesson 24 hours earlier.

That was supposed to be one of the goals of this season, remember? Learn from your mistakes and take at least baby steps toward improvement.

Well, things are heading south in a hurry with five losses in the past six games and nine of their past 12.

Worse than coughing the hairball in Atlanta was the uninspired effort through the final 45 minutes.

Stats sheets are not always the truest gauge, but it was hard to hide from this one as Toronto had a weak opponent by the throat after 20 minutes then proceeded to be outshot 17-3 in the second.

Don't be fooled by the 10 goals in the past two games either, or be heartened by the fact the Leafs got a cheap three points from the two-game trip. Remember that in Atlanta, the first three came on eight first-period shots against human sieve Johan Hedberg. And in Carolina, barfing up a 4-0 lead before salvaging a 6-4 win hardly was cause for celebration.

In the past three games, the Leafs have mustered just 58 shots on goal for an average of less than 20%. This from a team that went through a lengthy stretch in which it regularly outshot opponents.

Unlike early in the season when effort was enough to spring the occasional surprise win, results are heading toward hopeless in a hurry.

It's one thing to ask the fans to be patient, as was the plea at the start of the season. It's quite another to force them to see a team regress so visibly.

Sure the team has been hit with injuries and may be getting worn down, but Wilson says he isn't buying that as an excuse.

"I don't think fatigue had anything to do with it," Wilson said after the Atlanta game. "It was just a couple of guys not committed to doing a couple simple little plays, that's all."

Actually, there is more.

The team's struggles are emerging in unflattering ways. The team's leading scorer, Nik Antropov (35 points) had an assist against Atlanta but hasn't scored a goal in 13 games.

Matt Stajan, while still a useful centre, hasn't been nearly as productive as he was earlier, counting just three points in his past seven games.

It's hard to imagine the Leafs being as sloppy on the back end as they have been lately if injured Mike Van Ryn and Jeff Finger weren't out, but that also is the reality.

So Wilson is bluntly correct. When he stands behind the bench, most nights he sees a team that may get much worse before it gets better. And for Leafs fans, just because it is expected, doesn't mean the train wreck is any easier on the eyes.


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