Kids might get a chance

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:18 AM ET

Pat Quinn still wants Mats Sundin, Eric Lindros and Jason Allison as his top three centres, but circumstances might see two and maybe three youngsters on one line by next week.

Matt Stajan and Alex Steen don't have the star power of the veterans, but they're young, healthy and have been reasonably productive so far in training camp, where injuries have bugged many elder forwards.

"In an ideal situation, you like some experience there," Quinn said. "But some teams are going to be playing some young people. Two of those guys, Steen and Stajan, have worked well. Would I then maybe throw Kyle Wellwood in there? I don't know. He has been pretty good for us, too.

"It's a real positive we have right now (with the youth)."

Steen played on Stajan's right side against the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday in a 5-2 loss, with Nik Antropov on the left. Yesterday they were with Mariusz Czerkawski.

"The past couple of games I've played with Matt, we've been clicking," Steen said yesterday. "We've been finding each other and helping each other out. He works hard and makes things simple for me to read off of him."

With the 5-foot-10 Wellwood not as defensively adept as the other two, he probably would be better off at centre with Stajan shifting. But Quinn is getting tired of moving names around on a blackboard as opposed to seeing a set lineup. He's hoping minor injuries to Allison, Lindros, Jeff O'Neill and defenceman Ken Klee sort themselves out by Wednesday's season opener against Ottawa.

"Frustrating might be a good word for it, but the realistic thing is if they're not available, we still have to field a team," Quinn said.

The Leafs roster shrunk to 31 yesterday when goaltender Jean-Francoise Racine was sent to the Marlies. The Leafs are in Detroit tomorrow for the first of back-to-back games against the Red Wings that will wrap up the exhibition schedule. Toronto's record stands at 2-4.

Quinn finally got around to special teams at yesterday's practice. The Leafs power play is 10-for-62 and in the middle of the pack among 30 NHL teams, but only the Phoenix Coyotes (68% completion) have worse penalty killing than Toronto (76%).

"We've taken too many penalties and it has influenced every game we've lost in the last three," Quinn said. "We must have had six five-on-threes against in the past three games and that's where the majority of opposition chances have come from. If we can't kill (penalties), we'd better not take them.

"I can picture what kind of team we're going to have, but if we're going to have 35-plus minutes a game on special teams, that part will worry me. You could out-play a team five-on-five and lose the game very easily.

"If we go into the season like this (still getting used to new rules), we'll have a totally different game than hockey. We'll have to call it something else."


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