Ron Wilson hopes a light-hearted game of dodgeball on the ice translates into the Toronto Maple Leafs’ first win of the season Saturday night (7 p.m. ET) against the New York Rangers.
The Atlantic division leading Rangers (6-1-0) come into the Air Canada Centre off a 7-2 rout of Toronto (0-5-1) on Monday at Madison Square Garden.
Earlier this week the Maple Leafs head coach took a page out of a tyke coach’s playbook and allowed the players to play the kid’s game.
“We play a game, it’s supposed to be fun,” Wilson told reporters. “When you get a start like this, it’s not a lot of fun. We wanted guys to come to the rink, relax a bit, hit the reset button on the computer and away we go.”
Wilson’s aim was to help relieve some of the mounting pressure for the Maple Leafs, who are without a win in six games.
Defenceman Garnet Exelby is also glad Leafs GM Brian Burke came down to talk to the players.
“He said he believes in every one of us and to relax,” Exelby said. “Everybody was brought here for a reason, just do what you do best and everyone work together. Just relax and play your game.
“Whenever the big man comes down from upstairs, everybody listens. The message was loud and clear. Stay positive and work toward our goal.”
Toronto’s listless effort to his point can be blamed on slow starts and a lack of discipline. The Leafs have yet to score first in any game and allowed 10 power-play goals in 24 chances, with seven coming in the last three games.
A tale of two teams
While Toronto is struggling, the Rangers are thriving.
The Broadway blue shirts are riding a six-game winning streak heading into the Hockey Night in Canada matchup.
Gaborik gets 200
After toiling away in the Minnesota Wild’s defensive system for the past four years, forward Marian Gaborik has been one of New York’s top offensive players.
Going into Saturday’s game, he is tied for the team lead with 10 points and leads the club with six goals.
He notched his 200th career marker in a 4-2 victory over Los Angeles on Tuesday.
“(Gaborik’s) goal was just world class, and it came at the right time,” goaltender Henrik Lundqvist told the Rangers’ official website. “That’s what world-class players do. They step up at the right time.”
Valiquette between the posts
New York backup Stephen Valiquette could get the call to start given his recent success against the undisciplined Leafs, while Lundqvist has lost four of his last five to Toronto.