March 1, 2004 (TORONTO)
-- The Maple Leafs struggled for wins in the month of February but it wasn't all bad news as there was good news as the 2003-04 season hit the stretch drive.
Although the Leafs lost three games in a row for the first time this season last week the bad news would be the injury to Ed Belfour. He played only two games in the month of February which has fans and media wondering how severe his back injury is.
Belfour played through the back injury in a 4-1 win against Columbus but admitted after that he shouldn't have played because he wasn't 100 per cent healthy. He also played last Saturday against New Jersey and backed stopped the team to a 3-0 win.
The good news even though his time off has been longer than expected has given him more time to regroup and have plenty of rest when the playoffs start in April. Belfour has played only 45 games this year compared to the 62 he played last year. He is projected to play in about 56 games this year which would be the fewest he played since 1996-97.
| Mogilny will be a welcome addition to the Leafs. |
While the Leafs struggled without Belfour in the lineup they learned and adjusted to how second-year goalie Mikael Tellqvist plays between the pipes which will be important down the road as he will be the successor to Belfour.
Tellqvist has been called up numerous times this year but didn't have an extended stay until February where he played six games and gained valuable experience by not only playing but also practising everyday with NHL players. Facing the best players in the world has shown that he can play in the NHL and be a solid goalie at this level.
Another positive sign with the Leafs from February was the fact that Alexander Mogilny returned to the lineup after being out three months due to hip surgery.
The Leafs played extremely well without Mogilny in the lineup but since his return on February 19 against Carolina where he was eased back in the lineup by playing just over 13 minutes Mogilny has shown flashes of his old self in the seven games that he has played. Mogilny took his place on the first line and will help the Leafs on the power play and also on the penalty kill.
The Leafs have had many injuries this season which has the hurt the team but a benefit to the injuries is that the players like Mogilny, Belfour, Roberts, Nolan and Tucker have all had time to rest when they otherwise wouldn't have had if they were healthy and playing which should help them down the stretch and into the playoffs.
On the win loss column the Leafs haven't fared as well as they did in the previous few months but it isn't necessarily about the wins and loses. Many of the players who were hurt have returned and the team has seen young players step up and play well which bolds well for the Leafs as they head into the stretch drive and ultimately in the playoffs.
This was especially true early in the month when the Leafs were down 4-0 nothing to the rival Senators to only comeback win in overtime 5-4.
At the end of February the Leafs knew that if anyone was to get hurt they have players who can step in and do the job which will be needed for a long playoff run.