by John McCauley
March 11, 2006
(TORONTO) -- It's no coincidence that when the Leafs play physical -- without taking penalties -- they are successful.
A tough back-to-back set against the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning proved that point in spades as Toronto was very much the aggressor in both games earning three of a possible four points, which includes Saturday night's 5-1 win over the Stanley Cup champs at Air Canada Centre.
Mikael Tellqvist made 29 stops for the victory while Jason Allison (2), Matt Stajan, Mats Sundin and Nik Antropov provided the scoring. It was the Leafs second victory in three games.
Since mid-January and immediately following a 4-3 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes, in which they blew a 3-0 lead, the Leafs have primarily been playing on the outside and the gap between the forwards and defence was really a gorge. That stretch of futility that began with the team nine games over .500 has put them in an extremely precarious playoff-less position.
However it appears that the physical switch has been flipped making it has made it more difficult for Toronto's opponents. The new attitude has started at the top with Mats Sundin.
Since coming back from -- and even at -- the Olympics he has played a much nastier brand of hockey. Not exactly the big Swedes' calling card. His teammates have picked up on it and it's spreading throughout the team.
Nik Antropov when healthy is knocking people around. The lanky winger has always had mean steak but with his injury history it has been tough for him to do that on a regular basis.
"To me that's the way he should play. He has that edge. For him to keep growing we need to see that on a consistent basis," said Pat Quinn.
Darcy Tucker is another who has picked it up but always plays with vigor and really so does Chad Kilger. Young callup Ben Ondrus is using his speed to get around and put some much-needed zip into the fourth line.
Even the defensive corps is getting in on the action.
Luke Richardson has played two almost perfect games for the Leafs. It's a good thing when you don't realize he's on the ice. He's making the simple play and that has helped partner Aki Berg settle down and play a tighter, less risky game. Fans will be happy if he can string a few more ghastly-mistake free games together.
All of the above is happening while the team isn't taking what one would immediately regard as stupid penalties. Yes the team still takes too many but over the last three games it seems they have been able to improve the quality of those infractions.
At least the location of the penalties has been better. No one is taking holding penalties in the offensive zone any longer and that can only result in good things.
Toronto looks to continue its run of good, smart, aggressive play Tuesday night against the Boston Bruins.