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Wounded Caps, improved defence bode well for Leafs

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs have several reasons to expect another solid defensive effort on their part tonight as they host the wounded Washington Capitals.

Jaromir Jagr is expected to miss the game with a strained right knee and playmaking centre Adam Oates is also limping with a recent leg injury. Steve Konowalchuk, a 24-goal scorer last year, is out for a few months after shoulder surgery. Even the Capitals top-scoring defenceman, Sergei Gonchar, is hobbled with a strained groin, although he hasn't missed any games due to that injury.

But a shorthanded opponent is only half the reason for a sense of optimism for Toronto. The club has also produced better defensive efforts than the ones which started the season.

"It has been reasonably good, counter to what's been stated," said coach Pat Quinn. "The point is to keep the activity down, keep the time in your zone down and we've improved in that fashion. These are the things that give you a better chance of winning the game, but it doesn't guarantee you anything."

In the last six games, Toronto has a GAA of 1.33, which is certainly the main reason why the club is 4-1-0-1 in that stretch.

"Our trends has been to spend more time out of our zone. We're moving the puck better. We still give up too many rushing opportunities and that's what happens when you have forwards who get caught," said Quinn.

As the last line of defence, goalie Curtis Joseph sees progress as well, both in the number of shots directed at the net and the play of his teammates in front of him.

"You can go with the numbers sometimes or you can watch the games. If you watch the games, you make the assessment. I think we're getting better," he said. "Our forwards are getting to the puck a little more."

Quinn also stressed the important role of the forwards in the overall defensive effort.

But this Leaf team can't get lackadaisical and relax because of the weakened Capitals lineup. All they would have to do is look back to last week and remind themselves how a similarly depleted Pittsburgh team handed them a 3-1 loss.

A continued concentrated effort behind their own blueline will be the key for the Leafs tonight against Washington and beyond.
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