Penalties no longer killing Leafs

Maple Leafs' Jeff O'Neill engages in a spirited tete-a-tete with teammate Bryan McCabe during...

Maple Leafs' Jeff O'Neill engages in a spirited tete-a-tete with teammate Bryan McCabe during practice yesterday. (Toronto Sun/Craig Robertson)

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:46 AM ET

How those Maple Leafs have fit haloes over their helmets we'll never know.

But one of the worst offending teams in the "new" National Hockey League suddenly has gone straight and it's a big contributor to its four-game winning streak. After a six-game stretch where the Leafs were short-handed a minimum of seven times, they have come through the past three facing just 11 power plays, nine of them killed off successfully.

"It's everybody buying in and saying, 'Enough's enough'," defenceman Bryan McCabe said yesterday. "In our first 15 games, we probably were one of the most- penalized teams in the league. You face a lot of 5-on-3s every night, you won't win many games."

McCabe, who was expected to be one of the club's problem children where the new restrictive checking rules were concerned, has been a model citizen, never mind his team-leading scoring exploits. He credits improved stick checking that conforms to the league's vision of the future.

"A lot of guys were getting caught with holding or stick checking from behind," McCabe said. "The forwards have done a better job of skating back rather than using their sticks and that really has helped force the back-check from behind."

Darcy Tucker has just 21 penalty minutes, on pace for his lowest full-season total.

"We're not out of position as much as we were when we were taking a lot of these calls," Tucker said. "Hopefully, we'll continue the less-is-more mindset. Sometimes we're overzealous and try to do too much out there and it costs us. Hopefully, we continue to beat it into our heads that it's the kind of hockey for us to get through our tough times. When things are going well, then maybe we can open it a little more."

Though the Leafs still complain about penalties too much for their own good, missing of late from their rap sheet have been the unsportsmanlike and bench minors that have dogged them since Pat Quinn went behind the bench. His strained relationship with officials often spreads to his players, though Tucker insists that no longer is an issue.

"We've always been a team that's really into the game, very hungry for success and emotion spills over," he said. "You won't take that away from a team that plays with a lot of pride."


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