Wilson seeks better defensive play

STEVE BUFFERY, Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:04 PM ET

At times during his post-practice news conference Friday, Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson looked as if he had just finished drinking a jug of sour milk.

And not because he wasn’t pleased with the team’s workout, nor did he have any problems with the club’s opening day performance in a 4-3 overtime loss to the visiting Montreal Canadiens.

No, one got the sense that Wilson couldn’t believe the way some people were making excuses for a few key players who did not play well.

For instance, it was suggested that the defensive tandem of Luke Schenn and Francois Beauchemin was a minus 2 because the pair are new to playing together and there simply was a communication problem.

“(They) got beat off a faceoff,” the coach snapped, referring to Montreal’s first goal. “That’s not communicating. That’s just being ready, being on your toes.”

Schenn and Beauchemin struggled throughout the evening, as did third-line centre John Mitchell and defenceman Ian White, the culprit of a few ill-timed giveaways.

Wilson is expecting a big year from Mitchell. But in response to his performance in Thursday’s opener, Wilson plans to switch Mitchell to the wing for Saturday night’s game in Washington against the Capitals and put first-year forward Rickard Wallin at centre (between Mitchell and Lee Stempniak).

“I think Mitchy has a lot more to give than (Thursday) night, and Rickard is a good defensive player and we need that from our third line,” Wilson said. “They can’t be on the ice for either goals against, or big chances against.

“To succeed in Washington, we have to have some shut-down guys out there.

“We don’t really have a checking line yet. I hope those guys can do a good job. When you’re on the road, you can’t really control the (line) matchups, but I want a better defensive effort out of our third line.”

And especially out of Mitchell, who was minus 16 in 76 games for the Leafs last season. Wilson fired a verbal missile across Mitchell’s bow yesterday.

“He wasn’t very good defensively last year and he’s got to improve there,” Wilson said. “He was a big minus on our team and if you want to play regular in our league, you’ve got to find a way to be on the ice for more goals for than against, otherwise your team is going to lose.”

Wilson also shot down suggestions that his team was overly aggressive against the Habs, who went 2-for-4 on the power play. Defenceman Mike Komisarek, a key free agent singing in the off-season, picked up 15 minutes in penalties, which included a five-minute major for fighting Travis Moen and a four-minute, high-stick on Scott Gomez.

“Two of the penalties that Mike took were absolutely an accident,” Wilson said. “He passed the puck and Gomez ran into his stick. I don’t even think that should be called.

“If you take those two penalties out, we would have been in the box two times. I certainly don’t think we were overly aggressive.”

For his part, Komisarek said he was admittedly pumped about playing his old team, but won’t change his game because of the 15 minutes.

“We want to be assertive physically, we want to dictate the terms of the physical play, especially in our building,” he said. “But at the same time, (we want to) have that controlled aggression ... controlled chaos I guess you could say.”

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca


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