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Leafs face an improved Carolina team

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
by Tony Care

The Leafs travel to Carolina on Thursday as one of the highest scoring teams in the NHL. The offence has been better than advertised to this point with Toronto scoring 12 goals just three games into this young season. The Leafs are coming off a 6-1 win over the lowly Anaheim Mighty Ducks in which sniper Alexander Mogilny scored is 400th career goal in the NHL and the Leafs had a balanced scoring attack.

Mogilny has been terrific in the first three games. He has scored four goals, but has also added a scoring dimension that the Leafs didn't have last year. Mogilny can score from anywhere inside the blue-line and his wristshot is one of the best in the NHL. Mogilny, Gary Roberts and Roberts Reichel have been the Leafs' best scoring line in the first three games.

While it's taken them a little longer to jell, Mats Sundin and Mikael Renberg are starting to get more comfortable with one another. Along with linemate Jonas Hoglund, Sundin and Renberg were very impressive in the Leafs' last game against Anaheim. Renberg played his best game, which included his first goal. While not a flashy player, Renberg complements Sundin with his size and strength, two attributes which were demonstrated against Anaheim.

The Leafs will need to continue their offensive output against a good Carolina team on Thursday night. The Hurricanes are a much improved team over the last year. They took New Jersey to six games in the first round of last year's playoffs and have continued that solid play into this season. While Carolina lost their last game to Ottawa 6-2 on Tuesday, they are 2-1 and appear ready for a breakout year.

Carolina's offence is lead by Jeff O'Neill, Sami Kapanen, Ron Francis and Rob Brind'Amour. This foursome has combined for 12 points in three games and is an underrated unit. O'Neill leads the team in points with four and is second on the team with 11 shots on net. Despite giving up six goals to Ottawa, the Hurricanes play a disciplined defensive game and it will be tougher for the Leafs find open ice than it was against a porous Anaheim squad.

The Hurricanes also have the comfort of knowing their goaltending will be solid for the next few seasons. Though veteran Tom Barrasso will make his first start against Toronto, Carolina signed No. 1 goalie Arturs Irbe to a three-year contract and has been the team's most consistent player. Irbe led the NHL with 77 games played last season, tied for second most in league history. He also was third in the league with 37 wins.

The Leafs were 2-1-0-0 against Carolina last season, but the Leafs only have a 19-32-10-0 lifetime record against the franchise.
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