TORONTO - What should not be lost in yet another loss to the rival Ottawa Senators is that the Toronto Maple Leafs got an impressive debut from their new No. 1 forward line.
Captain Mats Sundin, newcomer Jason Blake and the much-maligned Nik Antropov combined for two goals and three assists in Wednesday night's 4-3 overtime loss to the Senators, looking very much like the kind of dangerous and cohesive top unit good teams need to have.
"It was our third time playing together for the whole year," Blake said after his first real game for the Leafs. "But overall I thought it was good."
Blake led all Leaf forwards with 23:13 of ice time, his first crack at filling what has long been a need for Sundin - a scoring winger. He had an assist and was named the game's third star.
"We did some good things out there, but there's room for improvement," said Blake.
Antropov, so often the target of fan abuse in the past at the Air Canada Centre, had a pair of goals and looked very much at ease on the big line.
"That one guy, No. 80, he's not bad. We'll keep him," head coach Paul Maurice said with a sarcastic smirk.
Antropov didn't get much delight in his two-goal performance.
"It's a team game, it's not five individuals playing. We lost today so there's nothing to celebrate," he said.
Sundin, who had two assists, tried to deflect the attention away from his line and praised the overall effort of a team projected to be on the playoff bubble this season.
"I saw a lot of great signs from our team," said Sundin. "I think we're way ahead of where we were at the start of last year. It's early, it's one game, but we played supposedly one of the top teams in our conference and I thought we played a darn pretty good game. If we can play games like this we're going to win a lot of hockey games."
The two teams meet again Thursday night in Ottawa. And once again expect Sundin's line to match up against Ottawa's big line of Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson. Heatley scored twice as the Leafs lost on Wednesday but the feeling in the Toronto dressing room was that they at least skated with the Sens, something they couldn't do last year.
"I thought as a team we were a bit better than we were last year, a lot faster and quicker on the ice," said Antropov. "It's going to pay dividends down the road. But unfortunately we lost today."
Ottawa defencemen took six minor penalties, which Sundin attributed to his team's speed.
"We were moving our feet," said Sundin. "That's a good sign for our group when we can skate with supposedly one of the best skating teams in the league. Some of their defence had problems and took a lot of penalties so hopefully we can carry that on."