Nothin' like a blowout

AL STRACHAN

, Last Updated: 5:43 AM ET

Going by the accepted wisdom of the National Hockey League, the score was roughly what it should have been -- 9-2. But it should have been in favour of the New York Rangers, not the Maple Leafs.

That's the way it works in today's game. If you're playing on the road one night while your opponent is sitting around relaxing and waiting for the following night's game, your chances aren't good. In fact, you stand a better chance of finding a sensible judge in this province.

The Leafs had a tough game in Carolina on Friday and although they came away with a victory, it was hard-earned, as they banged the Hurricanes into submission by delivering two-thirds of the game's hits.

And even if neither team had played the night before, the Rangers, coming in at eight games over .500 and in first place in the Atlantic Division, had to be favoured.

Apparently, the Maple Leafs were too busy travelling to make themselves aware of these salient facts. They not only cruised to a victory, they did it in a way that produced all sorts of good omens for their fans.

For one thing, they finally got some contributions from the lesser lights.

The goal that got the proceedings started came from Carlo Colaiacovo, his first of the season. Granted, Colaiacovo has been out for most of the season -- and a good part of the last one for that matter -- but he wasn't playing like someone who was gingerly easing his way back into the game. He was standing on the edge of the crease, a region that even many seasoned defencemen will avoid.

John Pohl chipped in with a goal as well -- his third of the season -- and again, the manner in which it was scored was every bit as important as the goal itself. Pohl split the Rangers defence with speed, moved in on Henrik Lundqvist and beat him cleanly.

Later in the game, Pohl blew past Darius Kasparaitis like a Ferrari past a Yugo to negate a potential icing. If Pohl continues to use that speed and gets confidence from his performance last night, it can only be good for the Leafs.

Even Kyle Wellwood, who was already a first-liner, showed improvement in a key aspect of the game.

For starters, he had a hat trick, which is notable because in many games, he doesn't shoot often enough to get a hat trick, even if every shot went in.

His shot is far from devastating, but it is accurate and Wellwood knows how to get into the open to increase his chances of success. But he looks for the pass more than the shot.

On the Leafs' standard five-on-three alignment, Wellwood floats around at the top of the crease and mostly acts as a decoy. If you watch films of the Leafs in those situations, you'll usually see Wellwood on the ice. But he touches the puck less often than any of the others.

Last night, however, he got the puck when the Leafs had a two-man advantage and buried it.

It is the nature of professional sports that if a team is successful following a certain style, it tends to go back to that style until it is no longer effective.

During the Leafs' seven-game losing streak, a major flaw was their lack of discipline. And for that matter, that shortcoming was too often in evidence during the first two games of this three-game winning streak.

But last night, in a game which offered them considerable provocation -- and in which they could have indulged themselves without fear of having to pay a serious price -- they maintained their composure.

Wade Belak accepted Carlton Orr's invitation waltz in the early going, certainly an acceptable course of action, and after that, the Leafs took only five minor penalties.

The tides rise and fall in the National Hockey League and now, after a dismal stretch, the Leafs are on a three-game winning streak. Perhaps more importantly, they've done it in a manner that gives rise to more optimism for their cause.

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REPORT CARD

A+ Forwards: How can you argue with a season-high nine goals. Making the feat even more impressive was the fact that captain Mats Sundin didn't even have one of them.

A+ Defence: The 13 shots by the Rangers were the fewest allowed by the Leafs since the lockout, a reflection of how well the Leafs played at both ends.

B+ Goaltending: Andrew Raycroft didn't have much to do on this night, but did look shaky on Darius Kasparaitis' goal in the first.


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