At the quarter-mark of the 2002-03 season, the Toronto Maple Leafs are surely not where the team or the fans expected them to be, but after a solid effort in the last four games, things are looking much brighter than they did two weeks ago.
The biggest question mark coming out of the off-season was, of course, goaltending. The picture looked to be getting fuzzier and fuzzier until Ed Belfour seemingly cleared everything up with three solid outings.
| Ed Belfour celebrates his 60th career shutout vs. the Bruins. |
Belfour has showed his mettle in his last three games saving 32, 35 and 29 shots and allowing only 5 goals while registering his 60th career shutout. The biggest win though came against the Sabres when teammates and the media alike credited Belfour with "stealing" his first win for the Leafs.
"I'm getting into a groove with my timing and stuff like that," Belfour told the Toronto Star. "That's when you're going down at the right time, you're standing up at the right time and that only comes from working hard in practice and playing a lot of games."
Head coach Pat Quinn has been saying all along that both Belfour and the team playing in front of him had to become accustomed to one another before we would see improvement. The Leafs are a much different team than the Dallas Star squads that Belfour won a Cup with and the Eagle is a different type of goalie than the man he replaced.
"I've said it before, we like Curtis," said Quinn, "but he's not here and we have to march on, but a lot of things were getting in the way. And one of them was how to play with a different sort of goalie and we weren't that good in front of him."
Now it seems Robert Reichel has stepped in for Belfour as the media and general public's whipping boy. Reichel has 5 assists and one goal in 19 games and with his salary many feel the winger should be doing more. Reichel himself understands the criticism, but knows he's doing the right things on the ice and is not phased.
"I know I am getting chances, but the puck is not going in," Reichel said. "But, chances will come and goals will come."
Quinn has faith in the veteran and expects a turnaround.
"He is not getting many points, but a lot of our guys are not getting many points right now," Quinn said. "His overall play has been good. He is a smart player and I think that smartness, before the season is over, will put him in good stead."
Another big bright spot as of late has been the play of Mikael Renberg. The vet has been on his own hot-streak recording six points in the last five games while skating on the top line with Mats Sundin. But, Renberg is never satisfied and always hard on himself. Perhaps good traits at a time like this as the Leafs try to get over the hump and back on top of the .500 mark.
"I don't think I ever really feel satisfied," Renberg told the Toronto Star. "My mom and dad said I did it as a kid, too. If we lost in practice, I went home and cried." INJURY NOTES
FAREWELL TO A LEAF GREAT
- Defenceman Bryan McCabe will be out 2-4 weeks with a broken bone in his foot suffered against the St. Louis Blues on November 9.
- Both Alyn McCauley (groin injury) and Alexander Mogilny (neck injury) are expected to play Saturday night against the Philadelphia Flyers at Air Canada Centre.
- Shayne Corson left practice early for treatment on a tweaked groin and is questionable for Saturday.
- Callup Paul Healey should be rewarded for his powerplay goal vs. the Bruins and see more games with the big club
Fourteen-year NHL veteran, Hall of Famer and five-time Stanley Cup winner, Harry Watson passed away on Thursday after a long battle with illness at the age of 79.
Watson was a powerful left winger, with a solid all-around game and a deft scoring touch. Four of his Stanley Cup championships came as a member of the Maple Leafs.
Watson is survived by his wife, Lillian; sons Barry, Ron and Dale; eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held Monday at 1 p.m. in the chapel of Dixon-Garland Funeral Home, 166 Main St. N. (Hwy 48) in Markham.
All of the Maple Leafs organization wishes them well and Harry Watson will surely be missed.