Trouble at Home: Road Trip Could Be Key in Turning Leafs Season Around

Jon NeelyAnalyst IOctober 22, 2009

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 12: Luke Schenn #2 of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks on during a break in NHL game action against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on October 12, 2009 in New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

For most teams in the NHL, there really is no place like home. Playing a string of games on home ice not only means you get the advantage of having a crowd behind your back, but you also get to sleep in your own bed at night instead of fighting for the remote with your roommate on the road. Playing at home is supposed to be good for a team, and usually a solid home-stand is just what the doctor ordered for a struggling team.

But for the Toronto Maple Leafs home is the last place on earth they want to be right now.

They are off to a 0-6-1 start, now the only winless team in the league, with five of those seven games taking place at the Air Canada Center. In those five home games their opponents scored 19 goals while the Leafs potted a dismal eight goals. They've scored less than three goals in every game but one, a 4-3 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens in the season-opener, and looked down-right terrible in the others.

Home has certainly not been a pleasant place for the Leafs to be and after getting booed off the ice in their last two games, both 4-1 losses, you can bet they were eagerly anticipating the upcoming road trip.

Unfortunately they're in the midst of a week-long break before that glorious road trip begins. Talk about getting kicked when you're down, not only does the team have six days to think about their last game's poor performance, but the Toronto media gets to take free shots at them while they sit on the sidelines and watch.

Absolutely nothing has worked for the Leafs while spending the majority of this short season at home. Coach Ron Wilson has tried everything to get his guys going, but to no avail. He benched two of his veteran players, Matt Stajan and Niklas Hagman, for a game to send a message, but that didn't work. He resorted to tough-love practices with demanding skating drills for his team, while he gave his vocal cords a workout. He even switched up the entire pre-game routine of the team, in hopes that a new look on game day would give them a new-look result at the end. He then tried to lighten the mood in practice by resorting to dodge ball on ice, which didn't work either, and you've got to think he's wondering what he can possibly try next.

The answer might not be as complicated as Wilson thinks though, as his team prepares to head out on a five-game-in-eight-days road trip that begins in Vancouver on Saturday. It will be a chance to get away from the city that when it comes to hockey, never sleeps.

And like every teenager will tell you, sometimes you just need to get away from home.

By the time the puck drops in Vancouver on Saturday the Leafs season will be 24 days old, with only the seven games to show for in that time. Playing the next five in eight days, all on the road, might sound like a death-sentence for this team, but it could end up being the saving grace for a season that looks to be going nowhere.

With the constant pressure from the fans and media in Toronto, for the most part, left behind, the Leafs will find themselves doing only one thing on this road trip; playing in real hockey games.

With hardly a break in between any of the games, they'll find themselves having to talk less and play more, the perfect way to end a dismal start. Practice can only get this team so far, they need to get thrown into the fire of a busy schedule, and get their minds off everything else.

Their schedule, while not an easy one, is something they can look forward to as the five opponents only have a combined 18-17-10 record, which is nothing to write home about. After Vancouver they will see Dallas and Anaheim before heading back East to visit Buffalo and Montreal.

This Leafs team has shown glimpses of promise during their early struggles, but hasn’t been able to get over the hump. While playing in buildings where all the eyes on are the other teams next week, we might just see a new-look Leafs team breakout of their very thick shell.

If the team can't manage to pull out at least one win on this trip, you can bet Leafs Nation will have a tough time even letting them back in the city.

But if they improve their play and get a few wins while on the road next week, returning to the Air Canada Center will have a new feel to it, a better feel.

And maybe, just maybe, their house will start feeling like home.