The good ship Maple Leafs sailed into Montreal, Friday with its guns turned inward.
The Leafs, winners of just three of their last 13 games, arrived after coach Ron Wilson joined General Manager Brian Burke in criticizing the practice habits of number one goalie Vesa Toskala.
Burke publicly criticized his goalie’s intensity to get better at practice this week and Wilson was singing from the same song sheet after a practice at Air Canada Centre, Friday.
“I personally would like to see him practice harder,” Wilson said. “If you are failing in your game, the only way you can get better is by practicing harder.”
Wilson made his displeasure clear enough.
“I would have expected Vesa to have much better numbers. He has been inconsistent at best. He has played some solid games, some poor. We have tried to find some consistency.”
There has been ample speculation that Toskala is playing through groin and hip problems. The Maple Leafs have given up the most goals in the NHL, mostly on the strength of Toskala’s .883 save percentage and 3.34 goals against average. Toskala was not anxious to talk about his injuries but said he would do so when the season ended.
Meanwhile, Wilson gave a less than glowing assessment of Jeremy Williams. Williams is playing his second game after missing a month with a shoulder injury. He had no shots and a minus one in 10 minutes Wednesday as the Leafs were hammered 5-0 by the Buffalo Sabres.
“He has to play better than the people we have in there and he hasn’t proven that,” Wilson said. “That’s been the case throughout his career. Jeremy, to crack our lineup, has to be better than the top six forwards.”
Wilson was quick to point out that Marlies veterans, Ben Ondrus and Kris Newbury come to mind, could bring the Leafs the jam and intensity so clearly missing against the Sabres.
“That’s a decision we are going to have to make,” Wilson said. “There are other guys who give us that kind of gritty game. We don’t have enough people to make (our) other guys comfortable.”
Williams, meanwhile, said he would take whatever criticism Wilson had for him.
“That’s what I want in a coach. You don’t want somebody who is going to act like your parents and say ‘good job.’ You want him to be hard on you. It’s a motivational thing.”
Wilson scoffed at the pre-game hype over the ill feelings between Montreal’s Kostitsyn brothers and Leafs forward Mikhail Grabovski
“We’re preparing for the game, not a marquee battle. It’s the Toronto Maple Leafs against the Montreal Canadiens. The rest is a bit of a sideshow.”
Staffan Kronwall, who with the Marlies almost all season was picked up the Washington Capitals when the Leafs tried to return him to Toronto.
The defenceman had seven goals and 26 points in 42 Marlies games and was, according to Wilson, the best defenceman toiling for the Marlies.
“It’s good for Kronny,” he said. “He deserves a chance.”