Daunting road for Leafs

The Leafs had fun at practice last week, playing dodgeball with tennis balls. (Sun Media/Michael...

The Leafs had fun at practice last week, playing dodgeball with tennis balls. (Sun Media/Michael Peake)

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:04 AM ET

Now what?

The Maple Leafs have tried benchings and bag skates, dodgeball and a carousel of starting goaltenders, and still have yet to find anything close to a winning formula.

With a record of 0-6-1 (and counting), life isn't about to get much easier in the near term for coach Ron Wilson and his downtrodden bunch.

At least they won't have to perform in front of the frustrated fan base, one that is getting increasingly louder with each passing loss, until Nov. 3.

But with six days off to stew about the troubles before departing on the first extended road trip of the season, a five-game stretch which begins Saturday in Vancouver, it will be a challenge to put on a brave face and continue to seek a solution.

"Obviously, when you are not playing well or winning, you want to get right back at it," struggling forward Jason Blake said of the untimely layoff. "That's the beauty of our game, that chance usually comes in the next day or two.

"Unfortunately for us, we've got to sit here and think about why we are in this position we've put ourselves in and how we're going to work our way out of it."

The Leafs had a complete day off yesterday -- as they often do on Sundays -- but now will feel like an NFL team, with a full week to prepare for the Canucks.

After that date, they will visit Anaheim and Dallas before returning east for dates against divisional foes Buffalo and Montreal.

Though the effort seemed stronger at times in Saturday's 4-1 home loss to the Rangers, you have to wonder which is more to blame for one of the worst starts in franchise history -- underachieving play or a roster that is considerably weaker in talent than management might have expected entering the season.

Either way, the fans don't like it and Tomas Kaberle says getting away from it all may not be the worst situation at the moment.

"It's sad, but we have a long road trip and maybe that's a good thing," he said. "The mindset is different, you get down one or two goals and you hear fans booing, it's not good. Obviously we deserve it, we haven't won.

"But we'll get the group together, maybe have a dinner, whatever works. We've been trying lots of things."

The Leafs have scored just 15 goals in seven games, which is poor enough, but just seven in their past five. With that kind of output, each time Toronto surrenders the opening goal -- as it has in all seven games -- the concept of a comeback seems more and more out of the question.

The situation between the pipes, meanwhile, will continue to be in the spotlight, especially after watching the show the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist shut down the Leafs on Saturday for the second time in six nights. Whenever it seemed the visitors needed a big save, they got one, something that has been all too rare at the other end of the ice.

Following the latest loss, Wilson talked about his team's inability to avoid "giving up a soft goal at a critical moment when you need a big save."

Unfortunately, those critical moments continue to pile up.

ROB.LONGLEY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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