Pohl draws short straw

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:16 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- With 40 games to go, the Maple Leafs' roster continues to be a work in progress.

Just when it seemed they were going to embrace youth in all aspects, they returned promising forward John Pohl to the minors. With far less explosive players such as Wade Belak and Chad Kilger used ahead of Pohl and the slumping Jeff O'Neill down to 7:40 of ice time on Saturday, there was reason to wonder what general manager John Ferguson and coach Pat Quinn were up to. They had roster flexibility to keep Pohl around, at least short-term.

Yet Kilger and Belak have so far showed their worth in a 1-0 loss and a 3-2 win on the Western road swing. In Kilger's case, he now has three goals in three games. The Leafs have won seven of their past eight heading into their game against the Canucks tomorrow, while Pohl, the top scorer with the farm team, went to join the Marlies for the present, on their extended road trip to the American midwest.

"The way (Pohl) was playing, he certainly didn't deserve to be pulled out," Quinn said after the Leafs nipped the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday. "John has done a very good job. Sometimes (it's hard) when you are trying to figure out how your lineup should go. But I guess the way I based the decision was on the seniority on our team right now. No one had been doing a bad job, when you go six undefeated and we didn't really play that badly in Calgary.

"So it's hard not to stick with the guys from the (Calgary) game. But John had been a big part of those six wins. He'll be back and it looks like he's going to be able to play (in the National Hockey League)."

In addition to playing with his starting lineup, Quinn has been fiddling with his forward lines. After putting Kilger with Mats Sundin and Alex Steen to start the Edmonton game, he promoted Tie Domi from the crash line and dropped Kilger, who combined with Clarke Wilm for the eventual winning goal.

"It was different," Kilger said with a laugh of his brushes with greatness the past couple of games. "I just had one shift with Mats and Pat just changed his mind. But it worked out.

"I think we've all tried to contribute as much as we can in the situations we get put in. I'm glad I can contribute offensively, but I know my role is to get in there and forecheck, be strong defensively and help kill penalties."

When the Leafs' hearts stopped racing after the win over the Oilers, they looked at the standings and saw division leading Ottawa bumped out of first place in the conference and just eight points away. Granted, the Senators have four games in hand, but have been slowed by injuries. If the Leafs hold their own in four upcoming games against Western Conference teams, then the two-game series in Ottawa starting next Saturday will have real meaning for the Leafs' first-place aspirations.

"We're battling hard and we've got a little bit of an identity going here," winger Darcy Tucker said. "We're giving ourselves an opportunity to win each and every game, by doing a lot of little things we weren't earlier in the year."

Goaltending also has played a huge role in the Leafs staying on their traditional 100-point track. After Mikael Tellqvist won for the fourth time in five games on Saturday, Ed Belfour goes for his 19th victory tomorrow.


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