DETROIT -- As if Pat Quinn doesn't have enough headaches as he attempts to trim his roster, the Maple Leafs coach was sliced open when a puck clanked off his forehead last night.
But at least the wounded bench boss and the rest of the Leafs brass have one less decision to make after watching electrifying youngster Alexander Steen strut his stuff during a 4-3 Maple Leafs victory over the Detroit Red Wings in Motown.
Management came into training camp poised to give the kid with the rich hockey bloodlines every opportunity to make the team, and he has responded. Last night easily was his best game in a Leafs uniform.
"He's making a good case for himself, no question," Quinn said, feeling few after-effects from the gash that was stitched up by a member of the club's training staff.
While the coach did not officially confirm that Steen had earned a spot with the club, he certainly seemed to indicate as much when asked about Steen's on-ice chemistry with another young up-and-comer, Matt Stajan.
"I think they are pushing each other right now and it has helped them," Quinn said. "I don't know if I'll play them together when the season starts, but right now in the exhibition games, they've been getting better and better."
Steen was the Leafs' first-round selection and Stajan a second-round pick in the 2002 entry draft. They became friends during rookie orientation camp later that year and forged a relationship that really clicks on the ice.
One play during the second period last night told the entire story for Steen, son of former Winnipeg Jets standout Thomas Steen.
With the Leafs playing short-handed, Steen and Stajan completed a brilliant give-and-go that resulted in Stajan's second goal of the pre-season.
"I feel it was my best game but I don't make the decisions," Steen said. "I'm just having fun out there."
Playing on a line with Steve Thomas, the unit was consistently dangerous in the penalty-filled game, which resembled a European soccer tilt because of all the diving going on.
Thomas hopes to find out his fate after the Leafs' pre-season finale against Detroit at the Air Canada Centre tonight.
The results were more of a mixed bag for Carlo Colaiacovo, another youngster attempting to crack the Toronto lineup.
Yes, he did score the club's fourth goal last night, smartly positioning himself to unleash a blistering shot that cleanly beat Red Wings goaltender Manny Legace.
But Colaiacovo went from hero to goat minutes later when he coughed up the puck in the Leafs zone, a giveaway that directly led to a goal by Kirk Maltby.
"That mistake was unfortunate, but other than that I think I played well throughout," Colaiacovo said.
Meanwhile, forward Jeff O'Neill, playing his first game since being nailed in the head by a Tomas Kaberle shot one week ago, looked fresh and scored the Leafs' second goal of the game.
"The noggin is fine," he said. "I may have to start wearing Eddie Belfour's helmet, though."