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Sundin Frustrated With Lack of Goals

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs

TORONTO (CP) -- Mats Sundin has to start finding the back of the net more often if the Toronto Maple Leafs are to make any headway in the Northeast Division standings.

The captain has scored a grand total of four goals, and if he doesn't pick it up this will be the least productive of his 15 NHL seasons.

Sundin suffered a fractured lower orbital bone when his left eye was struck by a puck in the season opener, and he missed the next 12 games. He had two goals and four assists in his first three games back, but he has only two goals and six assists in the last 13 games. He's getting plenty of shots, but he's not finishing.

The 34-year-old Swede hasn't scored in his last five games, and it is no coincidence that what looked like a comfy two-week home stay has turned into a dismal disappointment with consecutive losses to San Jose and Los Angeles.

The Leafs, when they practised Wednesday, were nine points behind Northeast leader Ottawa, and the Senators had four games in hand. They have been unable to catch Montreal and have been passed by Buffalo.

Sundin, the highest-paid Leaf at $6.84 million US this season, isn't about to hurl a stick at a dressing room wall to impress upon his teammates that a favourable stretch of the schedule is being squandered. He's not like that. Patience is his password.

"I do feel the timing, especially when I get scoring chances, is not where I want it to be and, obviously, I don't have as many goals as I want to have, but I feel good out there,'' said Sundin.

"I had good legs and good strength and created a lot of chances (during a 2-1 loss to the Kings on Tuesday night). If I keep doing that, the goals are going to come.''

The missed time is a factor, says head coach Pat Quinn.

"Just because your head wants you to step in and your desire is there to go right back to where you were, you have to get a feel out there,'' he says. "You have to find your room.

"Sometimes you're starting to press to have things happen the way you think they should be happening and a lot of times in doing that you go to places where you can't help. You're not available for passes. You can't participate on the defensive side. It always seems that you're chasing the puck.''

Quinn says the theory has always been that "you're not going to where the puck is going to, you're going to where it was. That often happens when you don't have that sense of timing yet. He's fighting through that right now.

"He'll get his groove going. It is, to me, just a sense of timing right now. His effort has been good.''

Moving Darcy Tucker to the top line with Sundin and rookie Alexander Steen has helped Tucker, who scored his team-high 13th goal Tuesday, but hasn't led to a bushel of goals from the line as a whole.

"That line has been playing pretty well but hasn't had the big production that you'd like to have,'' says Quinn. "A lot does revolve around Mats. He's a key guy.''

Steen did not participate in the Wednesday practice because of what Quinn described as an injury to "an upper body part.''

Next game is at home Saturday against the Dallas Stars (CBC, 7 p.m. ET).

Defenceman Staffan Kronvall is skating again but not yet recovered fully enough from an injury to participate in full practices. He won't be ready for the Stars, Quinn said.

Better 5-on-5 scoring is a must, said Sundin, whose club sat 14th in the NHL in that department before Wednesday's games.

"The power play has been getting all our offence,'' Sundin said. "We need to be more productive 5-on-5.

"That's been a strength of ours in the past. We'd like to keep our power play one of the top in the league but we need to score more 5-on-5, and we haven't done that this year. If you have a night like (Tuesday night) and the power play doesn't click, you wind up losing the hockey game.''

The Leafs have been fortunate to avoid injury problems afflicting other teams. They've had 23 healthy players most nights, meaning Clarke Wilm and Mariusz Czerkawski invariably are healthy scratches.

"We've lost three of four now so maybe it's time to pull some of them in,'' said Quinn.

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