Leafs pounded yet again

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:49 AM ET

NEW YORK -- During every New York Rangers home game, the capacity throng at Madison Square Garden, referring to despised former Islander Denis Potvin, can be heard chanting "Potvin sucks."

Maple Leafs fans might well be saying the same thing about their beloved team this morning.

Continuing to piece together one of the worst starts in team history, the free-falling Leafs plopped to 0-4-1 on the season with a humiliating 7-2 loss to the Rangers last night at the World's Most Famous Arena.

You want mediocrity? You got it.

Admittedly, the season is far from over. Nevertheless, no Maple Leafs team has gone winless for this long at the beginning of a season since the 1990-91 team, which came out of the gates with an 0-6-1 mark -- the worst ever by a Toronto squad.

Various reports suggest the Leafs, in fact, never have lost five consecutive games to start a season. But keep in mind that their opening game defeat, a 4-3 loss to the Montreal Canadiens, came in overtime, earning the Leafs their only point to date.

The Leafs will get reinforcements against the Colorado Avalanche tonight. Viktor Stalberg has received medical clearance to play after having his bell rung last week, while defenceman Garnet Exelby will be reinserted into the lineup.

As for last night, yes, goalie Vesa Toskala wasn't great again, a point brought up by coach Ron Wilson.

"I don't know if Vesa feels he should have had any of (the goals)," Wilson said. "But there were a couple of times we could have used a key save."

But the problems with this team cut much deeper than Toskala right now.

"(Vesa) was the only (bleepin') reason we were still in this game," forward Jamal Mayers yelled after the game.

"It's a two-way street," Toskala said. "I have to bail them out, they have to bail me out."

With his team failing to score the first goal in its first four outings, Wilson preached that the team needed to get off to better starts.

So what happens?

Just 72 seconds in, Lee Stempniak takes a needless tripping penalty in the offensive zone. Mike Komisarek is slapped with an undisciplined high sticking minor less than a minute later.

Sure enough, with the Leafs down two men, Ryan Callahan gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead just 2:34 into the game.

By 8:08 of the first, Wade Redden's bad-angle shot found its way past Toskala. It marked the fourth consecutive game in which the Leafs have trailed by a 2-0 score.

So much for the good start.

Is it a case of the players tuning out Wilson's message?

Perhaps.

Should Toskala and a handful of other underachieving veterans be Marlie-bound?

Perhaps.

Whatever the Leafs do, the product thus far has been unacceptable.

"A lot of people are upset at our start," general manager Brian Burke said during a second-intermission interview with New York television. "They are worried about what we are going to do."

And how.

The Leafs actually closed the score to 3-2 after two periods, but completely collapsed in the third, giving up four consecutive goals.

Dan Girardi and Sean Avery scored twice for the Rangers, with singles going to Redden, Callahan and Marian Gaborik.

Alexei Ponikarovsky and Jason Blake scored for the sad-sack Leafs.

"We can't feel sorry for ourselves," defenceman Tomas Kaberle said. "We must keep our heads up."

When the Leafs were on their team-building trip to Huntsville prior to the regular season, the players were quizzed about the history of the team.

We're not sure if one of the questions was: What was the worst start in franchise history?

If this keeps up, they'll have the answer.

All they'll have to do is look in the mirror to find it.

MIKE.ZEISBERGER@SUNMEDIA.CA


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