The Last Word

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:12 AM ET

It's the best power play in the National Hockey League.

It's the one belonging to the Maple Leafs, the masters of the man advantage. Or the two-man advantage.

The forwards come and go, depending on the circumstances. But the constant is found on the blue line -- Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe. Especially McCabe.

He's the highest-scoring defenceman in the NHL and when you get right down to it, he's the reason the power play is living up to its name.

Kaberle is the one who loads the cannon. McCabe is the one who fires it. And this year, unlike previous seasons, the cannon is right on target.

"His offensive mind has clicked in," Leafs coach Pat Quinn said. "I think that was always an asset for him anyway, and he always had a good shot, but his shot seems to be even harder and smarter now.

"If you watch where he shoots the puck, it's not wild. It's not over the net. He has really developed an ability to shoot with accuracy and his timing has been very good too. So that's just learning about your skills and using them better."

"I try to work on it a lot," McCabe said. "Hitting the net obviously is a big thing. I've got a great partner who gives me awesome passes all the time. And we've got so many great guys that if you hit the net, we're going to pick up some garbage goals. Goals are going to go in with screens."

As for Kaberle, Quinn has watched him mature.

"The very first year that I was here, that was his rookie year," Quinn said. "The one thing that impressed me right away about him -- and not many people were planning on him being on our team -- but he made it to me because he was a heads-up player who could mechanically make a good pass, but intelligently make the right pass as well.

"To me that's why he was able to step in and become a pretty good player right off the bat and he has been getting better too."

On some occasions, the enlarged offensive zones have contributed to McCabe's impact on the power play. But on just as many occasions, his goals have come when he has moved in toward the net, much in the way that Denis Potvin did during his heyday with the New York Islanders dynasty.

"If you notice, he has been sliding down a little bit further, especially on the power play," Quinn said. "You'd think that normally would be a place you don't want to go, but the larger zone makes it harder to cover that place now."

This is a new era for NHL power plays. Because the zone is larger this year, there is a newly uncovered no-man's land, an extra seam that opens up between the deep defenders and those assigned to cover the blue line.

It has enabled the Leafs to create a variation of what used to be known as the Wisconsin power play, the one used by the Calgary Flames when they had Gary Suter and Al MacInnis on the points and a host of snipers hanging around the net.

"They developed over the years a lot of options off it," said Quinn who, as the coach of the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings in those days, often saw his team suffer at its hands.

"They set up four men high actually, and they'd keep their two defencemen who were both good passers and good shooters -- Suter and MacInnis -- and they'd play a little catch game up there and try to draw your two top guys up. Then they'd hit the side place that had that attack that invariably gave you at least a three-on-two and often a two-on-one right on the doorstep."

That's what the Leafs are developing now. With Kaberle and McCabe being so dangerous on the points, the defenders have to come well out. That leaves the mismatch down low.

If the defenders stay low, McCabe moves in and fires his booming shot.

The result is the league's best power play. 


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