Leafs Brim With Poise and Perspective
Monday, 01.03.2004 / 1:29 PM / News
Toronto Maple Leafs
|Heading into his third season with A less experienced group could have used the recent three-game slide and any of the lifeless efforts, such as the loss suffered against the Bruins the week before, as an excuse to lose focus or bleed confidence. They did not (visibly) give in to any negative temptation and I think the two P's have a lot to do with it.
The most recent newcomers, and many of the older regulars, have an interesting common quality and that's the sense of having been around the block a few times.
Joe Nieuwendyk has won Cups in three very different settings and is dealing with the ups and downs of an injury-filled season.
Bryan Marchment has seen it all in the seven places he's played in before Toronto and is being sat more often than he's used to by the coach these days, but is responding with maturity and impact when he's thrown back in.
Ken Klee was the backbone of a Capitals team that made an impressive run at the Cup and he's best known as a "steadying influence back on the blue-line." He's been all of that and more to a group of defencemen who are, at times extremely sharp, at other times scrambling to find a basic, solid game.
Owen Nolan, the only survivor of last year's late acquisitions, won a Gold Medal with Pat Quinn in Salt Lake and although rarely animated in the public eye, has said all the right things about team focus and commitment in his pre and post game interviews, and more importantly, is rubbing out opposing players at very key times on the fore-check, like he means it. Along with this group, the veterans who have been here a little longer are used to the expectations and scrutiny that come with playing in Toronto, and it is serving them well.
The in-between guys are under the microscope too.
His name is synonymous with the annual frenzy of pre-trade-deadline talks, but Nik Antropov is staying calm and confident on the ice. Trevor Kidd's game has unraveled lately, but he has not, and that comes from inner-resolve. And Matt Stajan, the newest and youngest Leaf, has actually shown more confidence and creativity at a time when the team's youngest player could have gone the tighter, less decisive route, to do his part to be on the safe side during the team's worst stretch in weeks. Instead he's found another gear to play in, and is actually dishing out hits in the offensive zone, to go with great plays with the puck.
They are certainly not the only ingredients that make a good team a great one, but poise and perspective might be part of the glue that binds one together through a period of less than inspired play. The Leafs have plenty of it right now, and are well on their way to surviving another dip in the current roller-coaster ride.
Their next challenge, and reality check, comes from adjusting to a possible change in chemistry or identity if an impact trade is made, or playing much better hockey down the stretch as the current group, if one is not.