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Quinn Hopes Adversity Brings Team Together

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
February 7, 2006

(Canadian Press) -- He's only averaging one fight every 10 games, but that doesn't mean Tie Domi has stopped defending his teammates.

Adversity seems to follow the Toronto Maple Leafs wherever they go and the 36-year-old said after practice Monday that he's had enough of it.

(Getty Images/NHLI)

"Everybody from the outside always tries to separate us,'' said Domi, who will play his 996th NHL game on Tuesday. "But we're sticking together in here and working towards the same things, the same goals.''

The latest pseudo controversy to find its way to the Maple Leafs dressing room surrounds Jeff O'Neill, the veteran forward who was scratched for Saturday night's 4-2 win over New Jersey.

O'Neill has 15 goals and 30 points this year, but is a team-worst minus-17.

"This game's about results and accountability,'' said O'Neill, still clearly upset two days after his benching. "(Sitting me) was a way for my coach to tell me that he doesn't think I'm doing the best I can and I accept that responsibility.''

It was a similar statement given by many Leafs on this day, but coach Pat Quinn knows as well as anyone that those thoughts haven't translated to better play on the ice of late.

In 2006, the Leafs are just 4-9-1-1 and have fallen to eighth in the Eastern Conference. There are at least four teams who have their eyes on the final playoff spot, including the Atlanta Thrashers who visit the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday.

The time for the Leafs to turn things around is now.

"We're in the process ourselves of trying to be a good team and ensure we have that spot,'' said Quinn.

After Tuesday, the Leafs have a home and home series with the New York Rangers before the Olympic break. When Quinn boards the plane headed for Italy, the Team Canada coach hopes his NHL team will still be holding down that final playoff spot.

Atlanta trails Toronto by three points in the conference standings and must pass the Maple Leafs to make good on GM Don Waddell's guarantee that it will make the playoffs.

Quinn refused to make any such guarantees for his team, but did say he expected a challenge from the talented Thrashers.

"They're here fighting hard to move ahead and follow through with the guarantees,'' he said. "At the start of the year, I expected them to be (fighting for a playoff spot).''

The Leafs coach also failed to guarantee that O'Neill would be back in the lineup on Tuesday night.

Mariusz Czerkawski took O'Neill's place against New Jersey and was skating on the top line with Mats Sundin and Chad Kilger in practice on Monday.

O'Neill wore a red sweater along with Matt Stajan, Clarke Wilm and Domi, suggesting that one of those players might be watching the Thrashers game from the press box.

"You're trying to put a lineup in that you think is going to win the hockey game,'' Quinn said. "These guys don't like sitting and I don't blame them.''

One player who appears certain to step back into the lineup is defenceman Aki Berg, who has been out since Jan. 26 with a rib injury.

He'll likely take Wade Belak's spot on defence, which means the rookie trio of Andy Wozniewski, Jay Harrison and Staffan Kronwall will continue to skate with the NHL team.

Quinn noted that the he likes to carry the league maximum of 23 players, but can only dress 20 for each game.

"They're hard decisions to make,'' Quinn said. "On any given night, one guy might not play. Sometimes, not justly.

"But they still are a big part of our team.''

So on Monday, the team that can't go anywhere without a pack of reporters and one controversy or another following, took turns defending O'Neill.

"It was tough to see him not play,'' said forward Darcy Tucker. "We love Jeff in here. He's a big part of this group.''

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