Kaberle is No. 1

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:50 AM ET

He is on the No. 1 defensive pairing of the Maple Leafs, he is in the best of shape, on pace for a personal best in points and he leads the team in ice time.

But his name isn't Bryan McCabe, it's Tomas Kaberle, and he is having just as big a role in the club's push for first place in the Northeast Division as his more publicized partner.

"I think Bryan needs Tomas and Tomas needs Bryan," said Frantisek Kaberle Sr., Tomas's father and a former Czech national player and junior coach, as he watched them practice yesterday. "Both of them are very experienced by now, but they realize when one goes up, the other has to stay back."

While McCabe received a hearty endorsement this week from Brian Leetch of the Bruins -- the Leafs are in Boston tonight to cap a home-and-home series -- three-time Norris Trophy winner Paul Coffey was chatting up Kaberle during his sweater retirement in Edmonton this week, calling him one of the smoothest skaters on the breakout.

"I'm not looking at anything after just (nine) games," Tomas Kaberle said. "The whole season will (reveal) how I played. We're obviously very comfortable together. We know where to stay at the right moment, so sometimes you can do blind passes and know he'll be there."

Kaberle's average ice time is 29:01, a few ticks ahead of McCabe's, with the additional power play and penalty killing time sure to keep both men busy this season.

But it's a stat Leafs coach Pat Quinn is anxious to lower as this season progresses.

"You don't want their tanks on the downside," Quinn said.

"You have to rest them someplace or the pace of their game and quality might fall off. I'd like the other four guys (on defence) to pick up a little more of that time."

The free flow game of the re-launched NHL has benefitted Kaberle, who is listed as 22 pounds lighter than the heavy hitting McCabe.

But Frantisek says Tomas was ready for lots of work this year, which included an anticipated invite with brother Frantisek Jr. of the Carolina Hurricanes for the Czech Olympic team. Both played 30-plus minutes some nights at home for club team Kladno during the lockout.

"Every summer he has trained harder because he knows what's coming," said the elder Kaberle.

Tomas has eight points to McCabe's 15, but still is on pace to beat his career high of 47 in 2002-03.

"I like to feed Bryan one-timers on the power play," Tomas said. "That (production) will be important as the season goes into the playoffs."

The past few seasons, Quinn sometimes has broken the duo up to spread their offence around.

But not likely this season.

"Good defence pairs have a special sense for each other and they seem to have it," Quinn said.


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