Leafs Head West
TORONTO (CP) - It has been so long since the Toronto Maple Leafs played in California - March 1998 - that only Mats Sundin and Tie Domi remain from the lineup that last skated in the Golden State.
"That's the way professional sports is nowadays," Sundin says of the roster turnover. "It is amazing but, even if you look back at just the last three years on this team, there's been a lot of changes." A six-game foray begins with a clash Wednesday with the Mighty Ducks in Anaheim and continues for 10 days with stops in Los Angeles, San Jose, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. The Leafs return home to play the Canucks on Nov. 24, then repack their suitcases for games in Atlanta, Ottawa and New York.
"This whole stretch is kind of bizarre, really," coach Pat Quinn said after practice Monday. "Nine games out of the next 10 are on the road.
"It's not anything any coach likes but it's there and you have to deal with it."
The Leafs head to the airport in a positive mood having won three and tied one of their last four games.
"It's going to be a tough road trip for us and we're going to play some great teams out there but at least it's nice to go on the road knowing you've had some success of late," said Sundin.
A 4-2-2-0 road record suggests the Leafs enjoy escaping the microscopic attention of the Toronto media and the demands of the home fans.
"You don't have to put on a show," Sundin said of the team's posture on the road. "You go out and just try to get two points and get out of there."
Expectations are high.
"There's 12 points out there to be had and we have to come back with nine or 10," forward Darcy Tucker said of the next six games.
The undefeated streak is the product of improved defensive play, and the goaltending of Ed Belfour.
"It's a matter of team defence," said defenceman Ken Klee. "We're working as five guys out there, plus our goaltender, and everyone is on the same page.
"It's a lot easier to play defence when you've got (forwards) coming back and you've got the defencemen standing up (at the blue-line). It's a team game and when we play team defence we play well."
Now if they could just score a few more goals . . .
"Overall, in the first 15 games we've played, we have played pretty well defensively," said Sundin. "If anything has been lacking, it's our offensive output but I think that if we keep playing good defensively, the offence, with the guys we have in this dressing room, will take care of itself."
Centre Joe Nieuwendyk, who missed the last four games with back spasms, is making the trip. He's recovering but he's doubtful he'll play Wednesday.
Defenceman Karel Pilar also flies west. He hasn't played an NHL game since a virus infection caused heart problems last winter.
"I'm ready," said Pilar. "Now it's just a decision for the coaches."
Said Quinn: "The big thing is, with anybody we're going to bring (into the lineup), has he developed the defensive side of the game well enough to be here without being costly? We don't know that yet. We'll have to give him a chance to find out."
Quinn is carrying three goalies - Belfour, Mikael Tellqvist and Trevor Kidd, who is rounding back into shape after recovering from shoulder surgery.
"When we believe Trev is game ready, that would be the time to say, 'Well, we have to give him a game here.' That'll be the time," said Quinn. "We'll watch him closely in the next few days in practice.
"You can expect that it could happen (during this trip)."
Eventually, Tellqvist probably will be sent to the AHL farm club in St. John's so he can stay busy. The Swede has only appeared in three games as the backup to Belfour, who prefers a heavy workload.
"To take up a 23rd (roster) spot by having three here all year, I'm not sure that's best for our group," said Quinn. "It's not going to be an easy call but it's one we're going to have to face."
Rookie Matt Stajan has never been to California.
"It'll be nice to come back from a road trip with a tan," he said with a smile.