Time to change it up?

Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Bryan McCabe keeps tabs on Alexei Ponikarovsky during yesterday's...

Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Bryan McCabe keeps tabs on Alexei Ponikarovsky during yesterday's practice as they prepare for the Boston Bruins tonight. (Toronto Sun/Michael Peake)

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:41 AM ET

The Maple Leafs reach the quarter mark of their season tonight still battling an identity crisis.

Will they alter the 'plan' that general manager John Ferguson has alluded to by bringing in outside help for some struggling veterans? Or is a two-game winning streak with a rare healthy lineup a signal to stay the course?

Tuesday's 2-1 win over the New York Rangers saw everything turn in their favour, from goaltending to special teams, and even some improvement in their wonky 5-on-5 and defensive play.

But Ferguson can't ignore the annual late November trade winds blowing around the National Hockey League -- Todd Marchant being the latest name -- as well as resolving the Jason Allison ice-time conundrum.

HEALTHY

"We've got Mats Sundin back, we have a healthy group, which allows us to have a better feel for what we can be," a coy Ferguson said last night.

"At the same time, we're always exploring ways to make ourselves better, both internally and externally."

A continuation of the streak tonight against a division rival in Boston will be a further indication the Leafs can repeat their second-quarter success of 2003, when they shook off a slow start in the first 20 games to earn points in the next 16.

This time, there is no injury bug complicating matters. The same lineup is scheduled for the Bruins, meaning Wade Belak, Mariusz Czerkawksi and Clarke Wilm would sit.

"You have stability, guys knowing they're most likely going to play," coach Pat Quinn said yesterday at Lakeshore Lions Arena. "At the same time, we have three capable guys (sitting). Coaches like having the extra guys to step in, but you don't like telling someone they have to sit."

Allison looked more comfortable back at centre on Tuesday night after an aborted experiment at right wing. But he's centring a line of Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky, two frequently mentioned trade possibilities.

Wilm is a capable fourth-line centre, yet many in the organization would not want to give up on Allison so easily, never mind the challenge of moving his bonus-laden contract.

"I don't think there's anyway of avoiding those sorts of (stories)," Quinn said. "Ninety per cent of that is a speculative sort of thing.

"But it's a manager's job to continue to improve his roster. That includes a lot of discussion -- or sometimes no discussion if there's nothing out there. We've got a good group from my standpoint and we're striving to become a better team."

Marchant's name was raised when the Columbus Blue Jackets had to make a salary move to accommodate the arrival of Sergei Fedorov. Marchant is on waivers and could waive his no-trade clause.

Ferguson would not comment on possible Leaf involvement.


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