Energy comes a day late

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:04 AM ET

The coach preferred to call it a conditioning session rather than punishment, but few could argue whether the sentence fit the crime.

It was a frustrated and weary bunch of Maple Leafs yesterday following a noon-hour boot camp style practice at the Air Canada Centre that certainly made its point.

After his club's 5-0 loss in Buffalo on Wednesday, Ron Wilson was determined to make sure he exacted the sweat and energy the team appeared to leave on the other side of the Peace Bridge in one of their least competitive outings of the season.

"From top to bottom we didn't play well," said Leafs defenceman Mike Van Ryn, who like most of his teammates was drenched in sweat and feeling dehydrated after the gruelling session.

"It has got to stop. We've had too many of those."

Van Ryn vented in his own way in Buffalo, smashing his stick on the net after being undressed by Drew Stafford on a fancy deke for a goal. But the exasperation goes much deeper for a team that was winning games with energy and effort earlier but now seems to be running out of gas.

While the effort in Buffalo was deplorable, blowing a 3-1 lead to Florida and losing in overtime the previous night was another in a stretch where the tough defeats are starting to pile up.

TRADE DEADLINE NEARS

And now, with the March 4 NHL trade deadline less than a month away, some carry the weight of the knowledge that any number of them might not be around for long.

"All that is out of your hands," forward John Mitchell said. "You have to do what's best for the team and that's either going to keep you here or in the NHL. You have to work hard every night and not worry about the stuff you can't control."

After spending much of the practice on physical "battle drills" in which players were forced to fight for loose pucks, Wilson and his staff put them through a good 15 minutes of stiff skating to finish.

"Until we start improving defensively, just about anybody can have their way with us," Wilson said.

Many were left gasping and centre Matt Stajan said the intensity matched anything they have seen this season.

"It was up there, especially after back-to-back games and getting in late so we were obviously tired," Stajan said. "You have to come to the rink ready to work and whatever the coach throws at you."

Wilson threw a fair bit at them after the suspect effort the previous night. The team has another practice today before road games tomorrow in Montreal and next week in Sunrise, Fla., and Tampa.

"When they leave the rink, they should feel like they're tired," Wilson said. "They didn't feel tired after the game (Wednesday). We're going to start working a lot more on our conditioning. I don't think we are where we need to be and that's something I can address so I will."

As for the players, they have plenty to address as well.

"We're making the same mistakes over and over," Van Ryn said. "We should be the hardest-working team in the league and we've got to get back to that."


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