Quinn plays devil's advocate

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

It is every good coach's mandate to seek out the unvarnished truth about his team. In Toronto, that means he must be a contrarian.

Right now, the popular snapshot of the Leaf dressing room is of a place where optimism abounds.

Problems? What problems?

At these times, especially, Pat Quinn isn't of a mind to deliver tender, glowing accolades. He figures there is plenty of that encouragement to go around after winning three games in a row.

"We're not nearly the team we need to be," said Quinn after yesterday's practice. "We've got a lot of areas of the game we're not really doing well in. We're going to have to get better.

"As a coach, that's what you focus on. It's always nice to be spoken of nicely, just as during the bad times, nobody wants to listen to that. You just try to keep your eye on the group and what we need to do. Right now, they're a little too loose for me."

If the Leafs are feeling a little too good about themselves, it's not hard to understand. In an NHL that is still featuring special teams opportunities by the boatload every night, the Leafs' powerplay just happens to be the most prolific in the league.

At the same time, the Leafs seem to have adjusted defensively to the new enforcement and have allowed among the fewest opposition power plays in the league. The net result is a plus-9 when comparing power-play goals for (15) to power-play goals against (six).

By comparison, the Calgary Flames have scored just three power play goals, while allowing a league-high 14, which probably accounts for their lousy start.

Here in Toronto, it's a win-win circumstance, right?

Not so fast, says Quinn.

"We've spent a lot of time on special teams and this is really distorted in my opinion," Quinn said. "Everybody's talking about the exciting games, but they're way different, because most of the play every night is special teams. It's at least half the game. It's hard to figure out just where the teams are right now.

"Teams that have a good power play like ours are putting some points on the board. Maybe when it stops down the road, different teams will be looking better when there's more five-on-five."

But even if the coach wants to run counter to the prevailing opinion, the Leafs deserve credit for adaptability.

In the run-up to the season, Toronto was given scant credit, but everything has fallen their way.

Consider the case of defenceman Bryan McCabe.

The prediction was that he would be a dinosaur in this new, fast-paced, squeaky-clean environment. Instead, he has thrived. He has taken only five minor penalties in six games and leads all NHL defencemen in scoring with nine points, seven of them on the power play.

"Everybody on our team has a pretty good feel for what they can and can't do," McCabe said. "I don't think there's as much body contact down low, which is a good and bad thing.

NOT GOOD

"You can conserve a little energy out there because it's more positional play, but some of us like to bury guys into the boards once in a while, too.

"It seems to be working out. We're getting the hang of it and hopefully we can continue to stay out of the box. You're not seeing 30-35 penalties any more so most teams, including the refs, are adjusting.

"It has been a little bit of an adventure out there, but I'm very conscious of trying to stay out of the box."

The adjustment by McCabe and the rest of the Toronto defence has been a major reason why they have been one of the season's early surprises.

"The D have the toughest job," Tie Domi said. "They have to battle. And in the end, they're the ones who get the fingers pointed at them."

Just now, though, nobody's pointing fingers.

In an 82-game season, there's time enough for that.

And when it happens, you can bet the coach will be running against the herd, because it's his job.


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