SUN Hockey Pool

Big Bear on prowl

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:39 AM ET

Not that anything different was expected, but the Maple Leafs won't have much choice but to occupy themselves with Joe Thornton tonight.

Thornton was the talk of Beantown following the Boston Bruins' 6-3 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday. Thornton had two goals and two assists in his second game in the lineup after missing a week because of a sore back.

One of the NHL's premier talents, the 6-foot-4, 223-pound Thornton can dominate. He has two goals and eight assists in six games.

Armed with a three-year deal in August that pays him $6.6 million US a season, Thornton, 26, is entering his prime. A strong first half would put Thornton in good stead for the Canadian Olympic team. He was solid defensively for Canada at the 2004 World Cup, showing a willingness to adapt that is required on the international stage.

"He was a leader just by his actions," Bruins coach Mike Sullivan told reporters after his team's win on Saturday. "You could see it in his eyes. More important for me, I thought he had some calculated risk to his game."

It's next to impossible to stop a moose such as Thornton in the new, unencumbered NHL.

"You go to the net, they've got to hook you, they've got to hold you," the Bruins captain said. "The way I come out kind of dictates how the team plays. If I come out strong, force some things, get some good shots, skate well, it carries over."

LEAFS RECORD TO FALL?

A 12-year-old NHL record set by the Maple Leafs could be in jeopardy.

On Oct. 23, 1993 -- the same night Joe Carter touched 'em all to give the Blue Jays their second consecutive World Series title -- the Leafs, on two goals by Mark Osborne, beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-0 to win their ninth in a row to start the season, setting an NHL record. The Leafs won their 10th a few days later in Chicago before losing to Montreal.

Two NHL clubs are closing in on the mark. Led by former Leaf Steve Sullivan, the Nashville Predators are 7-0. The Preds play host to Chicago tomorrow, are at Columbus on Wednesday and play host to Edmonton on Saturday. If they win all three, they would have a chance to break the Leafs' record Nov. 1 in Anaheim.

The Leafs' biggest regular-season nemesis, the Ottawa Senators, also are within shouting distance of the record. The Sens are 6-0 and would be playing their 10th game of the season at the Air Canada Centre this Saturday had their match with the Florida Panthers two days ago not been postponed. The Senators are at Carolina tonight, play host to Montreal on Thursday, and are at home against Philadelphia on Sunday. Providing Ottawa remains perfect, a record-breaker would be possible in Buffalo on Nov. 2.

SOUNDS FAMILIAR

Gary Roberts was the Leafs' resident fitness guru/nut during his four seasons here and he has not changed his tune since becoming a Florida Panther in the summer.

Roberts expects to be back in the Panthers lineup tomorrow night in Pittsburgh after being sidelined because of a groin injury.

"I read a story the other day that said if your groin strength is 20% less than your (quadriceps) strength, you're at 17 times more risk for a groin strain," Roberts told the Palm Beach Post. "For hockey players, that's probably the case. It's not how big you can get, it's how balanced you can be and how functional you can get."

Yep, still the happy-go-lucky guy he was in Toronto.

NOTHING DOING

Brad May was not surprised that no shenanigans occurred between the Colorado Avalanche and Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night in the first meeting between the clubs since Todd Bertuzzi's attack on Steve Moore in March 2004.

"Let's stop flogging a dead horse," May said. "Let's just move on. I've been on both sides of this whole thing. This is behind us. We're looking forward. This is the new NHL. There's new rules, 200 players, probably more than that, exchanged teams. We're all excited about being back playing and competing, and that's where the focus should be."

May was a Canuck when Bertuzzi went after Moore and signed as a free agent with the Avs this summer. At one point, he vowed there would be a bounty on Moore.

ICE CHIPS

There is speculation that the Phoenix Coyotes are interested in Shayne Corson ... Don Waddell, general manager of the beleaguered Atlanta Thrashers, after his woeful club beat the New Jersey Devils on Saturday: "It's like we just won the Stanley Cup."

THE WEEK AHEAD

The Canucks visit the Avs for games on Thursday and Saturday ... Eric Boulton of the Thrashers is scheduled today to have an in-person hearing with NHL director of hockey operations Colin Campbell regarding an elbow to the head of Tampa rookie Paul Ranger on Thursday night ... The Avalanche will decide whether to send forward Wojtek Wolski back to the Brampton Battalion of the OHL. If Wolski plays in 10 games, one year will be counted on his NHL contract. In eight games, the 19-year-old has one goal and four assists.


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