Jeff a mutt no longer

Leafs winger Jeff O'Neill works out yesterday as the team prepared for tonight's game in New York...

Leafs winger Jeff O'Neill works out yesterday as the team prepared for tonight's game in New York against the Rangers. O'Neill will be in the lineup after being a healthy scratch. (Toronto Sun/Alex Urosevic)

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:39 AM ET

After being a healthy scratch for the past two games, Jeff O'Neill has had plenty of time to stew this week.

The Maple Leafs forward will get to take out his frustrations tonight at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers and wants to demonstrate to coach Pat Quinn exactly what he thought of the benching.

"I hope I come out and have my best game of the season and show them it was a mistake," O'Neill said after practice yesterday at the Air Canada Centre. "I don't care if you are out of the lineup for one game or 15 games, it still (ticks) you off. I'm just looking forward to getting back playing."

The Leafs, who play host to the Rangers tomorrow night at the ACC before heading into the Olympic break, won both games with a steaming O'Neill watching.

But Quinn, who has had O'Neill on a line with Kyle Wellwood and Chad Kilger the past two days at practice, is ready to re-insert the struggling winger. In 51 games, O'Neill has 15 goals and 15 assists and is a team-low minus-17. Just four of his goals have been at even-strength, and he has no choice but to start doing something.

The Leafs usually concern themselves with how they play, but they don't have much choice but to scan the Rangers roster tonight. New York is past the surprising phase and is in first place in the Atlantic Division with 74 points, one more than the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Leafs, who are 8-1 against Atlantic Division foes this season including a 2-1 win against the Rangers on Nov. 15, have two fronts to worry about.

One is Jaromir Jagr, who leads the NHL in scoring. The other is Swedish rookie netminder Henrik Lundqvist, whose .927 save percentage led the NHL going into last night's games.

"It's hard to stop that guy," Leafs defenceman Bryan McCabe said of Jagr.

"We just hope to contain him a little bit."

Quinn watched the Rangers crunch the visiting Ottawa Senators on Wednesday night and was impressed. The Rangers are one of the hottest teams in the NHL, going 8-1-1 in their past 10 games.

Tom Renney will be a serious candidate for the Jack Adams Trophy as the NHL's coach of the year, as long as the Rangers don't fall apart.

"They are playing with terrific discipline and have some real talent in a couple of their lines," Quinn said.

"They look like a good team and have stuck with it. They had a quick start and a lot of people were saying it might disappear, but it hasn't. I like that we are going to play a good team."

Though defenceman Ken Klee has rebounded quickly from a sprained left ankle suffered last Friday against the Washington Capitals, he did not accompany the team to Manhattan yesterday.

Quinn said it's a "wait and see" as to whether Klee plays tomorrow night.

The bottom line for the Leafs is they have managed to regain some confidence recently after a horrible stretch. A couple of wins in the next 24 hours would ensure a comfortable spot in the conference entering the Olympic break.

"We need to win (the next two games), that's all there is to it," Darcy Tucker said.

"We're in a position where we can't afford to give up points."


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