O'Neill benefitting from captain's return

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

Less than a week ago Jeff O'Neill was wondering when he was going to start consistently producing for the Maple Leafs.

Enter captain Mats Sundin and problem solved. In the three games they have been together since Sundin returned, O'Neill has scored four goals and recorded three assists. Last night, in a 6-4 win against the Washington Capitals, O'Neill had a goal and two assists.

"Once you get one goal, you loosen up and you feel better, you skate faster and everything falls into place," O'Neill said. "Get one and it snowballs from there."

O'Neill has eight goals and eight assists in 14 games overall. Before Sundin came back from a left eye injury, O'Neill had gone eight games without a goal. Earlier yesterday, O'Neill likened playing with Sundin to playing with future Hall of Famer Ron Francis. O'Neill often rode shotgun with Francis during their days together with the Carolina Hurricanes.

"It's very similar to playing with Ronnie," O'Neill said. "You have to have your stick on the ice and be ready at all times because you never know when he will find you."

O'Neill scored from his office last night -- the slot. Though it was Bryan McCabe who set up O'Neill during a Leafs power play, the latter knew exactly where to be and he wired a one-timer past Caps netminder Olaf Kolzig.

At times this season, O'Neill had been showing some trepidation but that's gone now.

"When you're a goal-scorer, it seems like the only thing that matters is production," said O'Neill, whose career high is 41 goals, set in 2000-01. "The easy part is getting to those spots. (Sundin) is a dynamic player and he makes something happen."

Last night, O'Neill demonstrated he can dish too. A give-and-go with Sundin in the third period resulted in a wrap-around goal, which stood up as the winner.

McCabe, who leads the Leafs in scoring with 20 points (O'Neill jumped into second last night), naturally is happy to see O'Neill clicking.

"Get the big man (Sundin) back and good things happen," McCabe said. "Mats is a guy who makes players around him better and Jeff is thriving on the opportunity. He is scoring some big goals for us."


Videos

Photos