| ||Heading into his third season with mapleleafs.com, John McCauley helps keep you informed with all the most important Leaf news. You can read John regularly as the Leafs continue their quest for the Cup.
December 15, 2003TORONTO
-- Blue and White fans are dancing in the streets. The Stanley Cup parade floats are being diligently worked on all across Leafs Nation and who can blame them.
Winning 10 of their last 11 games, the only loss coming in overtime to the St. Louis Blues, Toronto is getting the results its legion of fans expect them to deliver. Whether or not this will turn into playoff success remains to be seen, but the points earned during this prolific period may ensure the Leafs have home-ice advantage in the first few rounds, something they could have use last season against the Philly Flyers.
Pat Quinn has always said that results are divided up into separate categories. First, there are games you play great and win. Second, there are games you play bad and win. Third, there are games you play great and lose and fourth there are games in which you just don't get it done.
Over this streak's stretch the Leafs have eliminated second and fourth categories, which has translated into being one point out of first place in the NHL. Philadelphia leads the way with 43 points and holds a game in hand.
The reasons behind the streak have been well documented. Mats Sundin's players only meeting after losing to the Edmonton Oilers, a commitment to doing the little things as Joe Nieuwendyk has noted, Ed Belfour shaking off the early season rust and the ability of the team make up for the injuries that have claimed Alex Mogilny, Nik Antropov, Gary Roberts, Owen Nolan and Nieuwendyk for different stretches.
The most important of these factors may be the team's ability to play well despite the injuries, considering the team's age.
The problem with the Leafs in the past has been that once the injured players return, the work ethic dips and the results soon disappear. If Joe Nieuwendyk and Owen Nolan do get into the lineup for Tuesday's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, it will leave just Alex Mogilny on the injured list and that leaves some tough decisions for Quinn.
Rookie Matt Stajan sat on Saturday in favour of Wade Belak and the call was good one. Stajan's scratch was likely a one off because he was hurting a little and his slight stature wasn't what Toronto needed to get by the Rangers. So if he's back on Tuesday it means all of Alexei Ponikarovsky, Nathan Perrott and Belak will likely be in the press box.
Even if Nolan and Nieuwendyk don't play Tuesday, both are likely in for the back-to-back tilts on the weekend.
Throw Ric Jackman in the mix now after returning from his conditioning stint and it's getting crowded. There's no way Jackman gets in without an injury problem flaring up among the team's current top six of Bryan McCabe, Tomas Kaberle, Ken Klee, Aki Berg, Bryan Marchment and Karel Pilar.
If the Leafs are able to navigate through the coming lineup shuffle then this streak could go on for a little while longer, but everything has to end some time.
What the real benefit of the streak has been is a playoff insurance policy. Barring a complete meltdown they should be able to coast into Stanley's season working on the things make teams successful in the spring.
During an 82-game season teams can't get too high or too low. Winning streaks almost always blend into losing ones, but the importance of this run will be felt as much in April as it is now.