The Toronto Maple Leafs were back at practice on Monday afternoon, spending the second of six consecutive days without a game trying to right some of the wrongs that have plagued their winless, 0-6-1 start to the season.
And unlike the fun-filled day on the ice last Thursday, this one was all business.
While the layoff will mean more rest for a few of the team's key injured bodies - namely goaltenders Vesa Toskala (bruised knee) and Jonas Gustavsson (groin) and recently acquired sniper Phil Kessel (shoulder surgery) - the NHL schedule makers didn't do the struggling team any favours with a difficult five games in eight days road trip that begins Saturday in Vancouver against the Canucks. Starting next Monday, they travel to Anaheim, Dallas, Buffalo and Montreal.
The team's next home game is more than two weeks away, which is just as well given the Leafs have been booed off the ice in every recent outing at the Air Canada Centre.
Leafs head coach Ron Wilson declined to speak to the media after practice, leaving his players to speak to the team's game plan during the days off.
"This was probably our best practice of the year," said defenceman Francois Beauchemin, the Leaf who has logged the most ice time - 23:49 minutes per game - this season. "Guys were competing and working hard and that's what we need this week.
"This week is the only week off we have all year other than the Olympic break, and after this week we have games pretty much every second day. We won't have time to work on the little stuff like conditioning, so this week is a good week to do it."
While there's been plenty of blame to go around for the Leafs' poor start - only winger Alex Ponikarovsky and defenceman Ian White are plus players after seven games - the team's goaltending continues to be a significant weak point, and the approaching return of Gustavsson is one of the few reasons for optimism in terms of lineup additions expected in the near future.
The Swedish rookie skated for the first time in full equipment since his injury prior to practice and said afterward that, while he feels good, it's still unclear exactly when he will be ready for game action.
"It's getting better and better," Gustavsson said. "Maybe tomorrow I can go even harder and in a few days, maybe I'm full on the ice [in practice]
"Of course you don't want to miss two weeks, you want to be out there. But you have to see it as a long season and you don't want to take any chances now. I have to wait until I'm 100 per cent and then I can go full so I'm not going to [reinjure]it or something and miss another two weeks."
Toskala, meanwhile, skated without goalie pad prior to practice and is also in doubt for Saturday's game. The Leafs are likely to bring four goaltenders on the road trip due to the injuries, with AHL call ups Joey MacDonald and James Reimer at this point expected to fill in again.
White also missed practice after taking a puck to the face in the Leafs' 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers last Saturday, but the injury is not considered serious.Report Typo/Error