McCabe's play gets a nod

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:35 AM ET

Which intro sounds better for Bryan McCabe -- leading scorer on the Maple Leafs or National Hockey League defensive player of the week?

No defenceman in 68 years of club history has done the former, and the latter would have seemed a stretch based on the harsh pre-season reviews of the Leafs blue line.

About five NHL teams have defencemen at or near the top of their scoring chart, with the Leafs boasting McCabe at nine points and Tomas Kaberle one behind, tied with centre Jason Allison.

"It could be (McCabe or one of his ilk prevail)," Leafs coach Pat Quinn said. "It has helped their game that we're using them a lot more on power play and penalty kills."

Not that Quinn is in favour of his two best defencemen logging close to 30 minutes a game. He continues to question the wisdom of the NHL calling penalties so close to the letter of the law.

"This game was (designed) for five-on-five play and we shouldn't be taking people off the ice," he said. "But if it that doesn't change, we could see a defenceman at the top."

McCabe, a second team all-star in 2003-04, was cited by the league for four great games. It began with three points in the 6-5 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators on Thanksgiving, an assist in the 4-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers the next night, four assists in the 9-1 rout of the Atlanta Thrashers on Friday and 26 minutes of ice in a 3-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens 24 hours later.

McCabe continues to be one of the Leafs' best-behaved players, after gaining a reputation as a hot head where restrictions on his physical play were concerned.

The Atlanta game saw the Leafs set a team record with seven power-play goals.

"We are starting to shoot the puck a lot more with the extra man," McCabe said. "With the talent we have up front, maybe it might lead to enough points for a defenceman to be first. But it's still early in the season."

No one on the club wants a big fuss about the shift in team fortunes the past week, from 0-3 to 3-0, with McCabe, Eric Lindros, Allison, Darcy Tucker and Ed Belfour all stepping up.

"You try to keep on an even keel, which can be tough to do in this market," winger Tie Domi said.

Domi pointed to the steadily improving play of Lindros, Allison and Jeff O'Neill, who were either hurt or sluggish in the early stages of training camp.

"People had their opinions, but I think those critics should be looking in the mirror," Domi said. "It's great to see all three of them impressing. They're living their dream (playing in Toronto) right now."

Quinn had the team practice for an hour yesterday before their charity golf obligations at Angus Glen.

This four-day break is is the longest the team will have until mid-December and Quinn plans to use it to improve even-strength play, which has been diminished by the crackdown on obstruction.


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