Leafs playing 'Ron Wilson Roulette'

Toronto Maple Leaf coach Ron Wilson puts his players through a tough skate to end practice. (Craig...

Toronto Maple Leaf coach Ron Wilson puts his players through a tough skate to end practice. (Craig Robertson/SUN MEDIA)

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:18 PM ET

The angry glare in Luke Schenn’s eyes spoke volumes when a reporter brought up his third-period stint on the bench Saturday night.

No, there wasn’t an injury behind the move and yes, he was humiliated about playing just three shifts in the Leafs’ seventh defeat (0-6-1).

Welcome to Ron Wilson Roulette, where any Leaf might feel those splinters until this club wins a game.

“No one has stepped up and when you make a mistake, that’s the way it’s going to be,” Schenn said yesterday at the Mastercard Centre. “They’re going with the guys playing the best.”

That Schenn would be singled out shows how far the Leafs have slipped. Last year’s NHL’s all-rookie team member was among the most trustworthy in his own zone.

This year, first with veteran partner Francois Beauchemin and then others, Schenn has the same malaise that’s gripped the dressing room. Toronto has given up a league-high 28 goals, while four defencemen, Schenn, Tomas Kaberle, Mike Komisarek and Beauchemin are a combined minus-17.

There are five practice days until the Leafs get another chance to end the worst three-week start in club history. Wilson yesterday kept all forward lines together from Saturday, which was one of Toronto’s better starts, indicating that Jamal Mayers and Nikolai Kulemin could be scratched again.

But it’s a long way to Saturday’s game in Vancouver and players have really been looking over their shoulder since the one-game benching of Matt Stajan and Niklas Hagman, who had accounted for almost 100 joint points last season.

“I think (fear of sitting) should always be the case,” winger Lee Stempniak said. “We have really talented players who’ve been around a long time going in and out of the lineup, jumping at the bit to get back in. It’s healthy to have that competition to keep us on our toes.”

Wilson has already pulled goalie Vesa Toskala’s No. 1 status, though he’s not yet made a full healthy scratch on defence other than rotating Jeff Finger and Garnet Exelby.

“It’s a little frustrating,” Exelby admitted after he sat on Saturday. “The best I can do is show well when I’m in the lineup. In the big picture, we’d like to be winning and if we get out of the hole and I’m in the lineup, that would be good for myself. But now, it’s about righting the ship.”

The players were doing lots of talking yesterday because Wilson wasn’t, taking a rare pass on addressing the media. The official word was Wilson worried about sounding stale with so much time to fill this week. But it might be he wanted the players to be more accountable for their mistakes.

The dressing room has been a post-game ghost town some nights, with players such as Matt Stajan and Komisarek answering for absent teammates.

“We are a good team,” Schenn emphasized. “We have guys who can score goals who’ve not been able to do it. And we have defencemen who can play physical and keep pucks out of our net and not been able to do that, either.

“There’s no way we should be in the place that we’re in. But we’ll work our way out of it.”


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