Buds sticking to what is working

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:16 AM ET

There's nothing particularly new about the Maple Leafs' bread-and-butter scoring play. And because every NHL coach relies heavily on pre-scouting these days -- now that Pat Quinn is out of the league -- it can't come as a surprise to the opposition.

But it continues to be productive. It opened the scoring last night and it added the third goal as the Maple Leafs rolled to a 4-2 victory over the New York Islanders.

It's really nothing more than a diagonal pass to a trigger-man stationed just off the far post who doesn't stop the puck but one-times it into the net.

We've all seen it before and with this year's Leafs, we see it almost every game. It's clearly a productive tactic, but it fell out of favour for a while, perhaps because if it fails to work, you have to start over.

With other plays - the shot from the point, the pass into the slot and so on -- your hope is that if the original shot is stopped, the rebound becomes available, or a goalmouth scramble ensues.

But if that cross-ice pass doesn't get converted, the puck is in the corner, and the race for possession is on.

When the Calgary Flames were a powerhouse in the late eighties and early nineties, they used the play to perfection. At first Hakan Loob was the prime beneficiary, then some other guys made the most of it, like a couple of former Leafs, Joe Nieuwendyk and Gary Roberts.

One of the reasons it was so productive for the Flames is the same reason it's often productive for today's Leafs.

The Flames had the best blue-line tandem in the league at the time -- Al MacInnis and Gary Suter. The Leafs' pairing of Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle might not be quite as dominant, but when they're on their game, they're as dangerous as any pair in today's hockey.

Naturally enough, defenders don't want to leave those two alone to take their time working their magic out at the blue line so they get on them right away -- just as they did with MacInnis and Suter.

But that opens up a seam that can be exploited for that cross-ice pass to the far post.

The tactic has become so popular with the Leafs that even the lesser lights are using it should the opportunity arise.

Last night, the Leafs opened the scoring when Wade Belak, coming off the bench, moved in and spotted John Pohl stationed off the far post. The pass was perfect, as was the conversion, and with the game less than three minutes old, the Leafs were in the lead.

Kyle Wellwood, who seemed to be shooting more than usual last night, showed his remarkable poise and stick-handling skills when he waited for Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro to go down, then calmly lifted a shot over him into the net for the Leafs second goal.

But for the third one, they went back to the tried-and-true formula.

Darcy Tucker has scored most of his goals this year on that play and on this occasion, he did it again -- with a variation.

Usually, Tucker likes to be almost touching the far post, but this time, he was a bit further out -- over in the circle. Still, Kaberle saw him and laid the puck onto his stick. Tucker, as he has done so often from closer range, one-timed it into the net before the goaltender could get over.

That would prove to be all the Leafs needed last night, although they did get a late power-play insurnace goal.

It was a spirited game with lots of end-to-end-action, in marked contrast to the eye-glazer inflicted on the fans by the New Jersey Devils on Saturday, and the Leafs almost made their favourite play work once again.

On that occasion, Nik Antropov (known universally as Borat, much to his disgust) set up Wellwood, but Wellwood wasn't quite in position off the post and got tied up.

Had he been a couple of feet further away from the crease, the play would probably have worked again. The Leafs have already proved plenty of times that it's there for the taking.


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