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Quarter Of The Way Home

Monday, 24.11.2003 / 7:18 PM / News
Toronto Maple Leafs
  Now in his third season with Leafs TV, you can watch Brian Duff hosting pre- and post-game shows for all the breaking news surrounding the Blue and White.

(TORONTO) -- The Maple Leafs are one quarter of the way into their season and have improved by a nickel over this time a year ago. But if you were to ask just about anyone for his or her two cents on the team, you'd likely be given a bleak forecast in return.

Given their hunger for hockey supremacy you can understand the fans' plight. Realistically though, the Leafs aren't far off from where they should be.

Few were picking them to challenge for top spot in the conference and despite some indifferent play over the last while, they remain within striking distance of Northeast leading Boston, which has to be the short term (if not long term) goal.

As far as how the club has fared at each position, let's start in goal.

Admittedly this is going to sound strange given that his goals against average is up by half a goal, and his save percentage is down 30 points but Ed Belfour hasn't been as bad as his numbers would indicate. He's still paying the price for a couple of personal off nights (vs. the Islanders and Sabres) and team collapses (vs. Philadelphia and Anaheim).

On most nights though, despite lapses in team play in front of him, he still gives his team the chance to win. Mikael Tellqvist has been very good in his 4 starts to date, but unless something goes awry in Trevor Kidd's rehabilitation and eventual return to game action, Kidd should be the one backing up Belfour the rest of the way.

All questions at the start of the year were aimed at the defence, and little has changed, but when the forwards help out, the group does seem capable.

Bryan McCabe has regained his offensive touch, but is still prone to lapses in judgment defensively. Tomas Kaberle has struggled at both ends. Ken Klee and Aki Berg have played well. Karel Pilar will be interesting to watch, and it won't always be for the right reasons.

The next twenty games could tell us a lot about Bryan Marchment and how Pat Quinn plans to use him. He can still have a presence out there, but is perhaps in need of a different partner to be at his most effective.

Given the injuries to Nik Antropov, Joe Nieuwendyk, and Alexander Mogilny, it's been hard to get a read on chemistry and potential up front.

Given the nature of today's NHL, we may never truly find out.

That being said, the Leafs must be pleased with the recent spark and production from Gary Roberts, and the consistent efforts from the likes of Reichel, Tucker and Fitzgerald.

And while the Captain has been doing what he always does, that is produce at about a point per game clip, he still doesn't seem to be at his game-breaking best. Mats Sundin has just one game-winning goal this season, on the heels of 17 over the last two years.

The only reason to put any emphasis on this stat is because a third of Toronto's games have gone to overtime and not once have the Leafs prevailed. This is usually his time to shine, as evidenced by his 12 career O-T winners. But before raking Sundin over the coals for his lack of timely play, some research was in order.

And the results show that Sundin has more game-winning goals this year than Fedorov, Thornton, Iginla, O'Neill, Sakic, Yashin, Kovalev, Naslund and Bertuzzi combined.

A road-heavy schedule to start should pave the way for easier months ahead. And despite the turbulence encountered out west, the team is above .500 on the road, a trademark of Quinn's since he came to Toronto.

At some point, health permitting, roster moves will have to be made, which could mean the end of the Ponikarovsky and Perrott experiments. Harold Druken may not get a better chance than right now to show that he can be an NHL'er.

The Leafs are on pace for a 90 point season. Enough to make the playoffs. Never enough for the fans.
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