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Defence makes life easier

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
by John McCauley

TORONTO - Mental blunders have marred the Leafs' play early this season but the team gave its collective head a shake with Wayne Gretzky's Phoenix Coyotes in town.

Save for a sleepy third period in which two Coyote goals made the 5-3 final look a lot better than it actually was, Toronto played its best 40 minutes of the season simply because the defence tightened up.

"You have to play good team defence and good offence," said Shayne Corson, who scored his first two goals of the year. "That's how you win championships."

Robert Svehla scored his first goal as a Leaf.
Graig Abel Photography
The line of Corson, Alyn McCauley and Mikael Renberg awoke, showing some of the preseason magic that made them the best trio in camp. Both of their goals were at even strength, something the team has lacked.

Better still the power play continued to click going 2-for-7 in the game. Mats Sundin, Darcy Tucker and Alexander Mogilny have their offensive game in high gear. The threesome has been concentrating on the cross-crease pass to terrify the opposition, but against the Coyotes they added another weapon, the pinching defenceman.

Robert Svehla recorded his first goal in a Leafs' uniform and it was something GM/coach Pat Quinn may see a lot in the coming months. The former Panther appears to have a penchant for picking a line and heading towards the net without the puck.

In the win, the Leafs returned to what made them successful for most of last season. They kept the opponent shot total and chances down to the minimum in the first two periods. Penalties were still a problem, but right now they're a problem for every team.

"Right now I'm confused," Quinn said commenting on the league's obstruction crackdown. "We haven't done a real good job of killing penalties (this season). We've been spending too much time shorthanded. It has certainly cost us a couple games in my mind."

Trevor Kidd, who collected his first win as a Leaf, noticed that his penalty killers weren't allowing the cross-ice passes, which make saves tough.

"The penalty killing was better in the fact that we weren't giving up shots on a play from right to left," said Kidd, who will be replaced by a healthy Ed Belfour Saturday night in Montreal. "We were keeping a lot of things to the perimeter. It makes life a little bit easier for me."

If the Leafs can keep improving their defence and continue their scoring touch, life will be a lot easier for everyone on the team.
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