TORONTO (CP) -- In a season where the Toronto Maple Leafs have struggled dearly with their defensive zone coverage, one has to wonder where they would be without their top-ranked power play.
"It certainly has saved us in some games,'' head coach Pat Quinn said after Bryan McCabe's two power-play goals lifted the Maple Leafs to a 2-1 win over the New York Rangers on Tuesday night.
The Leafs' power play went 2-for-4 Tuesday and moved past Detroit for first overall in the NHL at 25.2 per cent. The new power-play-laden NHL has been a major reason Toronto has been able to stay above .500 this season despite its defensive struggles.
"Clearly it's won some games for us,'' Quinn said. "Our five-on-five play hasn't been where we want it to be. I've said it before, but the teams that have good special teams are getting the points.''
McCabe scored the winner 3:37 into the final period, one-timing a trademark blast from the point past Kevin Weekes.
"I could always shoot it hard, I just couldn't quite hit the net as much,'' said McCabe, chuckling. "But I work on it every day, I shoot one-timers after each and every practice.''
The goal gave McCabe 25 points (8-17) on the season, tops among all NHL defencemen and keeping him on the radar screen of Team Canada's brain trust for the Olympic Games. He credited his defence partner Tomas Kaberle, who fed him for both goals yet again Tuesday with a pair of pinpoint cross-ice passes.
"He never even looks, he just lays it there and it's always in the right place and always just the right speed,'' said McCabe. "I'm very fortunate to have a partner like him.''
The winning goal never would have happened without the work by rookie winger Alexander Steen, who pounded New York centre Steve Rucchin in the corner with a big hit and jostled the puck loose from him. The puck then went to Kaberle, who fed McCabe.
"To me that was an awesome play,'' said Quinn. "Steen knocked the big guy off the puck. Those kinds of plays make a big difference in a game.''
The Maple Leafs (10-7-2) have won back-to-back games for the first time since Oct. 15-20, and on this night didn't look quite as vulnerable defensively against a powerful Rangers attack, although New York winger Martin Straka hit the post on a breakaway from centre with just over six minutes remaining.
"I think we played better defensively, we didn't give up as much on the rush,'' said veteran Leafs goalie Ed Belfour, who looked sharp in making 27 saves.
Superstar winger Jaromir Jagr scored the lone goal for the Rangers (11-6-3), who suffered the first loss on their road trip after wins over Florida, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh. They wrap up their five-game trip Thursday at Carolina.
"I don't know, we were nervous maybe,'' Jagr said in explaining his team's loss. "A lot of guys have family here and watched Hockey Night In Canada (growing up).''
The Air Canada Centre crowd of 19,442 thought the game had been tied 2-2 but the Rangers' apparent goal midway through the third period was disallowed on a high-stick call.
Weekes, who has basically alternated with Swedish rookie Henrik Lundqvist, stopped 22 shots. He made a number of tough saves, including robbing Jason Allison on the door step with a big glove save in the first period and stoning Mats Sundin with a lightning-quick pad save late in the second period.
"It was a good goaltender battle,'' said Rangers head coach Tom Renney. "Both goalies made exceptional saves.''
Jagr tied it 1-1 at 6:14 of the second period when he rifled a one-timer past Belfour after a nifty pass from linemate Michael Nylander, who twisted and turned in the Leafs zone until he found the passing lane he was looking for and found Jagr at the left hashmarks.
The Leafs opened the scoring with 1:59 left in the first period after taking advantage of a 5-on-3 power play, McCabe launching a bomb from the point that Weekes never saw because Darcy Tucker was standing right in front of him.
Notes: Kaberle had two assists to give him 14 points (1-13) on the season ... Forwards Mariusz Czerkawski and Clarke Wilm and defenceman Wade Belak were healthy scratches for Toronto .... Wingers Fedor Fedorov (swollen eye) and Martin Rucinsky (knee) were out with injuries while defenceman Jason Strudwick was a healthy scratch ... The Leafs next play Thursday at Boston ... It was Eric Lindros' first game against the Rangers since leaving them. He played 120 games for New York from 2002 to 2004, collecting 85 points (29-56).
All photos by Graig Abel Photography