Leafs facing a tough test

LANCE HORNBY, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 9:02 AM ET

The Maple Leafs still think size and toughness are the way to beat the Ottawa Senators.

But neither will be in abundance at the Corel Centre tonight when they try to stop a three-game losing skid to the Sens, capped by a shameful 8-0 home-ice loss on Oct. 29 that was trumpeted by Ottawa general manager John Muckler as a turning point in the Battle of Ontario.

Missing from the Leafs' lineup will be Eric Lindros (wrist), Nik Antropov (knee) and Tie Domi (shoulder). Domi's absence, in light of the beating he received from young Sens' rogue Brian McGrattan in the previous game, raised some eyebrows. But Domi has been seen with his right shoulder bandaged and has tried practising the past two days with poor results.

STIGMA

"I'm not at all certain he'll be ready for our next game, either (here Monday against the New York Islanders)," Leafs general manager John Ferguson said. "But it's not our expectation that this is (a long-term injury)."

Muckler, trying to cleanse the stigma of losing four consecutive playoff rounds to the Leafs, was ecstatic that his team sent such a strong message last time, from Dominik Hasek's shutout to Dany Heatley's four goals on Ed Belfour to McGrattan's decision over Domi.

"That was fabulous for our hockey club," Muckler told the Ottawa Sun the next day. "It was something that had to happen. The mystique of the Maple Leafs is not there for us anymore.

"This club will never be tentative again. We've got a good mix here. We feel like this could be our best year and this could be our best opportunity (to win a Stanley Cup)."

The Leafs refuse to concede that Ottawa has stolen a page from their book with better team toughness.

"They know their own team better than us, so it's not for me to comment," Darcy Tucker said. "Their young guys are maturing, they made a good trade (acquiring Heatley from Atlanta), they've made other changes. It's a new year for them."

Wade Belak thinks the Sens have made the most of the National Hockey League's new rules, which play to most of Ottawa's strengths.

"There's no red line, so players such as Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza have excelled," Belak said. "You can't clutch and grab them anymore.

"What we have to do is be physical on them and then maybe they won't want to go in the corner and get that puck. But they have guys who like to dish it out, too."

Coach Pat Quinn said toughness matters -- "When you have it around, a lot of people get braver," -- but he doesn't want the winger on a head hunting expedition tonight to avenge the last game.

"I don't care if Wade goes anywhere near those guys (such as McGrattan)," Quinn said.

"I want him paying attention to guys who are more important to their team. That's the focus we'll have."


Videos

Photos