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Duffer's Notebook: All Hands on Deck

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Now in his third season with Leafs TV, you can watch Brian Duff hosting pre- and post-game shows for all the breaking news surrounding the Blue and White.

TORONTO -- A week ago, the Maple Leafs were embarrassed (again) on Long Island, leaving them with just one victory in five games.

As a new week begins, the Leafs are just two points shy of first overall in the NHL. What does this mean?

McCabe's return can only help the Leafs.
(Getty Images/NHLI)
Obviously not much, because it's far too early to get a true read on any team. But with key veterans having just returned, we are about to see what this year's club is made of.

The schedule may not seem that enticing at first glance, but there really are some great challenges ahead. The emotionally charged Thrashers, the always troublesome Sabres, the first rematch with Philly, Paul Maurice's Canes (assuming Paul is still the coach), Mario, the Champs, the free wheeling Oilers, and then a six-game Western road trip!

Players To Watch

Aside from his three-point outburst versus the Coyotes, Owen Nolan continues to look uncomfortable when it comes to finishing quality chances. Amazingly, if he had finished a greater percentage of his opportunities, Robert Reichel would likely be the scoring leader on this team.

For those of you that feel Reichel is only stepping up his game because it's a contract year for him, enjoy it. History has proven that it never hurts to have a bunch of players playing with added incentive. (And they will be under no obligation to re-sign him at year's end)

With goals in three straight games, Joe Nieuwendyk appears eager and able to reach the 30-goal plateau for the first time in 6-seasons.

Regardless of how many minutes he plays, Matt Stajan deserves to stay, and don't be surprised to see his role increase (through more penalty killing) in the weeks ahead.

Upon returning from injury, Tom Fitzgerald has been at his best since coming to Toronto.

NHL Musings

Anybody pick Paul Mara in their draft? The Coyotes defenceman, and former first round pick of the Lightning is living up to his 1997 billing with 8 points in his first 7 games. On the heels of a 10-goal effort last year, it would appear Phoenix did quite well in the Nikolai Khabibulin trade of 2001 (they also landed last year's leading scorer and former Leaf Mike Johnson, and massive 6-5 defenceman Matthew Spiller).

He may not lead the league in assists, but Pavol Demitra has become a fixture on the nightly highlight reels for his passing proficiency (see Keith Tkachuk's 400th career marker). Can't imagine the Blues without him given their injury situation already.

Almo reminded the Leafs whay they missed him Saturday.
(Getty Images/NHLI)
From "the one that got away" department: ex-Ranger prospect Marek Zidlicky. Seemingly a throw in for the Predators in a deal that netted them Rem Murray and Tomas Kloucek for Mike Dunham, Zidlicky is a 26-year-old defenceman meaning he can't win rookie of the year. But the first year NHLer has helped the Preds who've undergone a complete overhaul on the back end. Zidlicky has seven points in seven games, more than all Rangers defencemen (de Vries, Poti, Bouchard, Purinton, Malakhov, Kasparaitis, and Mironov) combined.

Speaking of first year players, what a Calder crop this year!

Marc-Andre Fleury and Andrew Raycroft in goal. Dan Hamhuis and Joni Pitkanen on the blueline. Patrice Bergeron, Michael Ryder, Jason King, and Jordin Tootoo among the many eye-openers up front. And really, that's just a small sampling of youngsters who've already made an impression.

It's too bad Ziggy Palffy hasn't played a full 82 games since 1997-98. He can be a perennial 90-100 point guy, perhaps even more, if Los Angeles, as a team, ever got healthy with him.

Best off-season acquisition? Tough call.

Mariusz Czerkawski. Signed as a free agent after being bought out by the Habs, he has 7 goals and one assist in his first 7 games back on the Island.

Chris Drury. A Sabre among the NHL's scoring leaders? Enough said.

Luc Robitaille. You had to know this would happen. Robitaille would probably have 700 career goals if he hadn't left the Kings twice before (He currently has 634).

Cory Stillman. Dealt on draft day for a 2nd round pick, he's a big reason why Tampa started 6-0. (5 goals and 2 assists)

Lastly, allow me to suggest you keep an eye on Captain Coyote, Shane Doan.

They couldn't have made a better choice to lead this rebuilding group in Phoenix, and with a little luck he may just hit 30 goals and 70 points for the first time since he was the Memorial Cup MVP with Kamloops in 1995. I'll never forget the 1995 draft in Edmonton when the Oilers had a chance to select the native of Halkirk, Alberta 6th overall. They opted for Steve Kelly. Doan went 7th to Winnipeg, much to the chagrin of many in attendance that day. " commentators
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