November 24, 2003 (TORONTO)
-- How do you explain the Leafs going winless all over the Western seaboard, but responding with back-to-back victories over one of the best teams in the league? You can't. Don't even try. Let the experts divulge the information.
Mats Sundin chalks it up to doing the little things, being sound positionally, winning little battles and making the simple play.
"Our team has been in better position of late. Seems like once we get the puck we're in the right spots to score goals right now," Sundin said after the Leafs 2-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.
It was the same story in Vancouver on Saturday when the team was able to put down the Canucks on home ice, 5-3. Considering the Leafs previous results, an 0-2-2-1 record to start the 12-day road trip, nothing was more improbable than beating the Canucks two straight times considering their talent.
|Matt Stajan takes a ride. |
(Graig Abel Photography)
A key to the 360 has been the play of Sundin and his older, yet more muscled, linemate Gary Roberts. The duo has scored a combined five goals versus the Canucks. Production like that has been lost to the Leafs so far this season and it bodes well for the Blue & White that it's starting to come.
"If our line is in good position defensively, we get the chances offensively," Sundin proclaimed.
It's that kind of preaching that Sundin purported to his mates during a closed-door meeting after their loss to the Edmonton Oilers last Thursday.
Enough was enough and the Captain wasn't going to let the season slip away in November. The pep talk seems to have worked, but more troubled water could be ahead with three more road games this week.
Robert is looking more like the player that led the Leafs to the Eastern Conference Finals two years ago. He is completely healthy. No lingering effects from the groin pull that sidelined him during training camp and he has started to alleviate the penalties that were costing the team.
"For Gary to be successful that's how he has to play," head coach Pat Quinn said. "He's been doing it for years."
The veteran now seems to be straddling that line between reckless abandon and just plain reckless. Even though he and Sundin seem to be carrying the team through its latest injury bug, Roberts believes that team defence is the biggest factor.
"We have to be better as a group," Roberts said. "We as forwards have to help out the defencemen in order to get the results we want."
Those results have started to come, but just when you think this team has turned the corner, another obstacle may block its way.