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Leafs More Than Sum of Their Parts

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Recap | Pics | Scoring | Highlights | Post | Coach | Stajan | Hagman

(TORONTO) - They can be a wonder, your Toronto Maple Leafs.

They surely were Saturday night as they beat the Ottawa Senators 3-2 and outshot them 34-26. The score favored the Sens who did the lion’s share of the watching.

Now, this is a Senators team that has not yet found its Mojo. While the Maple Leafs are now a winning 3-2-3, the Sens are 2-5-1 and from what I can see, that’s about right.

What the Maple Leafs are in a game like Saturday’s, is a study in economy.  They may not have that much to work with, but they work with what they’ve got.

“You start the season and everybody makes their predictions,” said Jeff Finger after his first game as a Leaf. “It’s all about making use of what you’ve got and buying into the system as a team.”

Best then to start with the best example of that, Luke Schenn. The 18-year-old rookie fought Ottawa tough guy Chris Neil after what he saw as a cheap shot kneecapper on Matt Stajan.

He finished plus-1 and when the Leafs were chewing on their 3-2 lead in the last minute, it was Schenn and Finger the Leafs coach went with.

“He’s putting me in some key situations and I feel comfortable out there,” Schenn said. “The main thing is to keep getting better.”

The kid knows a credo when he sees one. The reconstructed Leafs have plenty of team speed, solid goaltending and a renewed sense of purpose on defence. In the Eastern Conference, how much more do they need to make a little noise about competing for the playoffs?

“Maybe we are playing over our heads,” mused Leafs coach Ron Wilson. “You’ll know what we are come Christmas time.”

There is, Wilson insists, miles to go.

“We can do a lot of things better. The number one thing we can do is get ourselves in the shape to play the way we did in the first half of the game or the first two periods in the third period. We should have buried them, (at least more so than we did)."

Someone once said about elections that they’re always there even when they aren’t.

“I wouldn’t mind if Mats came back,” said Wilson and why shouldn’t he? Coaches like talent.

For now, consider the second round 2010 draft flyer that is Mikhail Grabovski. Snakebit through his first seven games, Grabovski was dazzling last night, searing through a grasping defence before ringing a shot off the crossbar in the first period and then breaking through with a close-in rocket in the second. His backchecking kept him in the lineup.

Then there is Dominic Moore, a smooth-skating plugger but a plugger nonetheless, scoring the game-opening goal in a meteor shower of a pileup a few feet away from the Ottawa crease.

It is hard not to admire Dominic Moore, in victory or defeat. He isn’t strong, he doesn’t have a peerless view of the ice. Imagine a carpenter not more than a hammer and a lot of ambition. Every time you look up, he’s banging away.

The Leafs got an insurance marker when Alexei Ponikarovsky chipped home his second of the season on a clever pass from Nik Antropov with 6:23 to play.

Ottawa got back to within one when Dean McAmmond banked a shorthanded goal off Mike Van Ryn with 49 seconds left to play.

Shean Donovan scored the other Ottawa goal.

Everywhere you looked, you saw tiny scenarios of competence. Jeff Finger was fine in his first game of the season and made the key defensive play of the game, sweeping a puck out of the Toronto crease seven minutes into the third.

“It seemed to be happening pretty slowly,” Finger said. “I was just hoping that he (goalie Vesa Toskala) got enough of it to slow it down so I could get it.” He did and he did.

Nicklas Hagman was a waterbug in a teacup all night and after his night off, Jason Blake played a strong game.

The Leafs got great work in the first two periods from an energy line of Ryan Hollweg, Jamal Mayers and John Mitchell. The club kept the Senators go-to line of Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley off the scoreboard

But you win hockey games for a simple enough reason. You do it by winning significantly more skirmishes in the corners and along the boards. And that’s what they did.

Desire comes in peaks and valleys. Right now it’s peaking.
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