|Leafs head coach Ron Wilson in the closing seconds of their game against the Canucks in Vancouver, B.C., Oct. 24, 2009. (REUTERS/Andy Clark)
The Maple Leafs may be lacking in many areas, but Ron Wilson isn't about to have a fit over his team's fitness.
The coach took exception yesterday to claims by former Leaf Gary Roberts that the team's revamped off-season conditioning program has played a big role in the team's struggles.
"We believe in the program and we respect Gary, but unless you were actually involved in all the stuff our players did anaerobically and aerobically, it's really not fair for anybody on the outside to comment," Wilson said following yesterday's practice at the Mastercard Centre.
"We're happy with the results and all our testing and we haven't had any issues in terms of groin strains. We've been healthy, we just haven't played very well on the ice."
In an interview with Toronto's AM640 on Thursday, Roberts was sharply critical of the program overseen by Anthony Belza, who replaced Matt Nichol in the summer. In their exit interviews following last season, Wilson and his staff made it clear that players needed to work on their aerobic conditioning and that a stationary bike would be a major tool to that effect.
Roberts said that such a strategy was "the most ludicrous thing I've ever heard, " adding that defenceman Luke Schenn was a prime example of the shortcoming because "he looks like he has been riding the bike all summer."
Wilson took exception to that, pointing out that the second-year Leaf didn't follow the program fully because he returned from the world championship with a minor injury and had to have his own regimen adapted.
While Wilson dismissed the claims of physical shortcoming, he acknowledged that his team has to find a way to become tougher mentally if it is to snap out of its current five-game losing streak and vacate the NHL basement.
At practice yesterday, he berated players for a poor second period against the Carolina Hurricanes when the Leafs began to squander a 3-0 lead following their best opening period of the season. He was particularly heated in addressing his goaltenders and defencemen toward the end of the noon-hour session..
"We need to block more shots, we can't have our goalies tell our defencemen to get out of the way (so they can see the puck)," Wilson said. "Otherwise we get a little passive."
As for the brain cramps that have appeared too often this season, the players acknowledge few nights have they been more costly than in Thursday's collapse.
"We have to stop being mental midgets, be more tough mentally and face adversity in a game," Leafs forward Jamal Mayers said. "We have to learn how to respond and not over react."