Time is not on Leafs' side

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:22 AM ET

Pushing the reset button sounds a lot less ominous than reaching for the panic button, if only semantics were enough to snap the Maple Leafs out of their funk.

It also will take considerably more than the dodgeball session during yesterday's "fun" practice at the Mastercard Centre for Hockey Excellence to get the season's first win tomorrow against the visiting (and red-hot) New York Rangers.

But if that inaugural victory doesn't come soon this will quickly become, in the words of Leafs coach Ron Wilson yesterday, "the longest season of our lives."

Too early for such dire talk? Well, sure it's only six games and two of the losses were against Washington and Pittsburgh, anyone's best guess to repeat as Eastern Conference finalists come spring.

But of all the terrible statistics -- last in the league in points (one), worst in penalty killing percentage (58%), worst in goals against average (4.60), etc. -- the most alarming number may be what it will take to meet general manager Brian Burke's oft-stated goal of making the playoffs.

Taking the 2008-09 Montreal Canadiens, the team that claimed the eighth playoff spot in the East this past spring, as an example, it's a steep climb. The Habs finished with 93 points compiled from a record of 41-30-11.

With the Leafs crawling out of the gate at 0-5-1, all they have to do is go 41-25-10 the rest of the way to match. From a team that has held the lead for less than seven of the 365 minutes it has played, a reversal in form best come soon.

"Here in Toronto, it's easy to panic," Leafs defenceman Mike Komisarek said after the frivolity of practice and a half-hour rally-the-troops talk from Burke. "You can't change the start we had.

"No one wanted this, no one wanted to start this way. We got ourselves in this mess and we're going to work ourselves out of it."

The record, gloomy numbers and some horrible play late in the most recent losses to the Rangers and Avalanche aside, the Leafs can't be as bad as they have been so far, can they?

Could the goaltending be worse? Hard to imagine. Could the team take more bad penalties farther away from their own net? Not likely. And can the new defencemen look any less settled? Burke better hope not.

Six goals for in the past four games sure won't cut it and with such offensive challenges, nor will falling into 2-0 holes as the team has done in five of its six games.

To his credit, Komisarek stood tall yesterday and took his share of the blame. He admitted that he has taken more than his share of bad penalties and that perhaps has pushed too hard to make a strong first impression.

"We all just have to calm down and relax a little bit," Komisarek said. "If everyone does his job a little bit better, we'll be better off."

So yesterday was a chance to exhale for a team that looked as lost as it did lousy in its most recent two losses. That the Leafs' best effort was in its opening game is not lost on Wilson. A return to that effort would be a good starting point.

"The pinprick on our balloon was maybe getting tied against Montreal and going into overtime and losing," Wilson said. "That seems to have really shaken our confidence coming out of training camp.

"Then we got lit up in the first period in Washington but we were prepared for that. We haven't had a response since."

If that pulse doesn't start racing soon, O-for-October isn't out of the question. And then what?

ROB.LONGLEY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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