Like every coach in the NHL not named Bruce Boudreau, Ron Wilson can only dream of having an Alex Ovechkin in his lineup every night.
But failing that, the Maple Leafs coach feels he can use the NHL’s top sniper as a teaching tool for his struggling team.
As suspect as the defence and goaltending have been, Wilson knows that if the Leafs don’t start finding the back of the net soon, the six-game losing streak to start the season isn’t about to end.
So after watching the league’s deadliest sniper fire 12 shots at the San Jose Sharks and scoring twice on Thursday, Wilson hammered his message home Friday.
“The best player in the league, he spends all night shooting,” Wilson said after practice at the Mastercard Centre for Hockey Excellence. “He shoots from everywhere and creates lots of opportunities.
“If we want to score more goals, we need more guys shooting and driving to the net.”
With an offence that has produced just 13 goals in six games, the Leafs aren’t going to stand up against tough opponents such as the New York Rangers, who visit the Air Canada Centre Saturday, a rematch from the 7-2 throttling in the Big Apple five days earlier.
As usual, Ovechkin leads the league with 55 shots on net.
Comparatively, only four Leaf players have topped his dozen from the other night in six games combined.
So along with defenceman being put through their paces in one-on-one drills, yesterday’s practice also included a number of shooting and rebound exercises.
Wilson also took aside Mikhail Grabovski for a pep talk.
“He’s always looking to pass to one of his linemates, which is a noble quality,” Wilson said of Grabovski. “But if (opposing defences) know you are not going to shoot, they take all of your passing options away.
“He’s got a great shot. He scored 20 last year.”
Besides the obvious ailments, the Leafs also could use a boost in confidence. It won’t be easy for the last-place team in the league against a Rangers squad that wakes up this morning in first-place overall.
“We’re not a last-place team, that’s for sure,” defenceman Francois Beauchemin said. “One game can turn it around. We are better than what we have shown.”
Disgruntled fans might argue, but there has been no chance to gather momentum after an opening night overtime loss to the Habs.
“You would think we would have some confidence from the pre-season but we played well that first game against Montreal and lost,” said forward Nik Hagman, who along with Matt Stajan was benched for Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to Colorado.
“Then it just started to snowball and went the wrong way.”
The bigger that snowball gets, the more desperate the Leafs become for a win.
“We want to win so we can go on the road feeling good about ourselves,” Wilson said. “And then we can get all this baloney behind us.”