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Surging Senators try to derail Leafs

by Davis Harper /

MAPLE LEAFS (7-2-1) at SENATORS (6-5-0)

TV: SNET-Ontario, SNET-East, TVA

LAST 10: Toronto 7-2-1, Ottawa 5-5-0

Season Series:
This is second of six meetings between the Northeast Division rivals. In their first meeting, Toronto held on for a 6-5 win at home behind a Phil Kessel hat trick on Oct. 8.

Big Story: Toronto is off to a torrid start, but much of the Leafs' success has come in the comfort of the Air Canada Centre, where they are 5-0-1. The Senators have won five in a row, two of them on goals in the final five seconds and one after a three-goal comeback.

Team Scope:

If management hasn't yet considered handing out pacemakers to its season-ticket holders, it might reconsider after Saturday's stunner against the New York Rangers. The Senators overcame a 4-1 deficit in the final 11 minutes of regulation -- Jason Spezza scored twice and Milan Michalek tied it with his seventh of the season to send the game to overtime. Michalek then scored the only goal of the shootout for a stunning 5-4 win.

Coach Paul MacLean has been encouraged by the Senators' resilience during their five-game winning streak, which followed a 1-5-0 start.

"What we did at home is one thing," MacLean said. "Being down by three goals late, showing some resilience coming back and getting two points, doing it on the road, those are the kind of building blocks we can lean on."

Maple Leafs: With his League-best 10 goals so far this season, Phil Kessel has been the toast of Toronto. But the Leafs aren't first in the Northeast Division merely because of Kessel's contributions. Captain Dion Phaneuf had two assists in Saturday's win, giving him nine for the season. Afterwards, coach Ron Wilson reserved his post-game compliments for his captain, not Kessel.

"Personally, I think by a country mile he's the best defenseman in the league," Wilson said. "It's not even close right now. His numbers show that -- his plus-minus, we chart scoring chances and his numbers are off the chart there. I think he's comfortable in his own skin, he's comfortable being the captain and he's healthy."

Toronto needs to keep building on its momentum, especially away from home -- where they are just 2-2-0. Power-play conversion has been a focus in practice, but even after going 2-2 on power-play chances Saturday night the Leafs are still converting a paltry 17% of chances.

"The most important thing is that we were able to win the faceoffs," Wilson said of the conversions. "We were able to get going real quick -- get it down to the front of the net and make things happen. … Tonight it looked really good."

Who's Hot: Spezza has been huge in Ottawa's recent run, with at least a point in the last six games and a goal in five of six. … With all eyes on Kessel, winger Clarke MacArthur could be a difference-maker for the Leafs. He's got goals in back-to-back consecutive games.

Injury Report:
Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson left Saturday's game with a head injury, and Alex Auld missed it for an undisclosed reason.

Stat Pack:
With 10 goals through 10 games, Kessel is on pace for 82 over a full season. His career high is 36 with Boston two years ago. He has 32 and 30 in his two seasons with the Leafs. His 18 points are nearly 30 percent of his 2010-11 total of 64.

Puck Drop:
The Maple Leafs organization are taking part in Movember, a worldwide effort to raise awareness for prostate cancer in which men grow mustaches throughout the entire month of November. In addition to many in the organization and former captain Wendel Clark, four current members are taking part in the effort, including goalie Jonas Gustavsson, who has won two of three since he replaced an injured James Reimer and had 34 saves against the Penguins.

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