Tough test for Leafs

Alex Ovechkin gets around Bryan McCabe in the second period of action between the Toronto Maple...

Alex Ovechkin gets around Bryan McCabe in the second period of action between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Washington Capitals at the Air Canada Centre November 8th, 2005. Photosource: Dave Abel, Toronto Sun

MIKE ZEISBERGER, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 11:58 AM ET

TAMPA -- Listen closely and you can hear Alexander Ovechkin smacking his lips with anticipation.

On his dinner menu tonight are the Maple Leafs, who face off against the NHL's super rookie when they meet the Washington Capitals at the MCI Center.

"Stop Ovechkin and you'll stop the Caps" seems to be the mantra of opposing teams whenever they come into the U.S. capital.

But the Leafs have some factors going against them in their efforts to keep him off the scoreboard.

Since the game is in Washington, Leafs coach Pat Quinn does not have the last change. That goes to Caps coach Glen Hanlon, who is expected to get Ovechkin out on the ice whenever he sees any of the Leafs three first-year defencemen, Staffan Kronwall, Jay Harrison and Andy Wozniewski.

So how does Quinn plan to have his rookies stop the Caps heralded rookie?

By using reverse psychology, of course.

"I'm just gonna tell the kids that I want (Ovechkin) thinking about checking them, see how that works," he said with a chuckle.

Ovechkin has scored at least once in each of his two previous matchups against Toronto.

"We're not going to put a specific checker on him because he's one of those guys who would be difficult to follow around in today's style of hockey," Quinn said.

"But you have to be aware when you are on the ice he is out there.

"We'll have some tendencies of his broken down of where he likes to go. I know their team looks for him almost all the time. They want to get him the puck because he does something with it almost every time he touches it."

A victory would give the Leafs five of a possible six points on their three-game swing through the central and southern U.S., which has included a 4-2 win over the Florida Panthers and a 3-2 shootout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

While the Leafs have been buoyed by the return of Darcy Tucker and Bryan McCabe, the improved play of Mats Sundin and Ed Belfour has helped the team snap out of its eight-game losing funk.

Sundin has four points in the past two games, while Belfour has stopped 68 of 72 shots.

Eye injury

It was suggested to Quinn that it may have taken both veterans longer to find their games because they did not play any hockey during the lockout.

In Sundin's case, Quinn feels it took the captain some time to reach his usual level of play because of a serious eye injury suffered in the season opener.

"Obviously you operate on the basis that they are rounding into form," Quinn said.

"At least you hope so."

Belfour doesn't buy into that line of thinking.

"Not at all," he said.

"The year off was good for me."


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