October 5, 2006
Sens dump listless LeafsQuestions about scoring remain after loss in season opener
By MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun
Prime Minister Stephen Harper paid a post-game visit to the Maple Leafs dressing room last night, taking time out to shake hands with the players.
Let's hope, at least for the P.M.'s sake, the Leafs didn't squeeze Mr. Harper's mitts as tightly as they squeezed their own sticks.
Even a visit from the federal leader couldn't alleviate the disappointment of a Leafs team frustrated at the amount of offensive chances squandered in their 2006-07 season opener at the Air Canada Centre.
With the capacity crowd of 19,520 buzzing at the prospect of seeing a new coach and a handful of new players lock horns with the arch-rival Ottawa Senators, the Leafs found themselves on the doorstep of goaltender Martin Gerber three times in the opening minutes only to come up empty on each occasion.
That was the theme of the night for the Leafs, who watched Gerber turn aside 33 shots en route to a 4-1 Sens victory in the first leg of this home-and-home series.
Afterward, the Leafs complained about "squeezing our sticks too tight." Mats Sundin, Darcy Tucker and Michael Peca all echoed that same phrase during separate post-game interviews.
But should anyone really be surprised with the Leafs offensive struggles?
This is a team that scored just 21 goals in eight exhibition games, leading to the inevitable question: Who among the forwards will light up the red lamp on a regular basis other than Sundin and Tucker?
Toronto's lone goal of the game came when Sundin was the only player on the ice. The Leafs captain, as usual, provided the offence, becoming the first Leaf to score on a penalty shot at home since Derek King accomplished the feat back on Feb. 7, 1998, against the Florida Panthers' John Vanbiesbrouck.
Yet when it was mentioned to Sundin that he might have little support from the remainder of the squad in the goal scoring department this year, and the veteran Swede shook his head.
"I disagree," he said. "We have a lot of younger guys who have shown they can score in this league and in other leagues.
"I think we have enough offence up front and in the back end, where I think we've had more firepower than ever. If you look at this team offensively, we're as good as as the previous years where we've had over 100 points and made the playoffs. "
For the record, the last time the Leafs reached the century mark in points was the 2003-04 season. That Toronto team featured an experienced offensive supporting cast with names such as Gary Roberts, Joe Nieuwendyk, Alexander Mogilny and Owen Nolan.
The 06-07 Leafs, on the other hand, must rely on youngsters like Kyle Wellwood, Alex Steen and Alexei Ponikarovsky to pick up the slack. Wellwood and Ponikarovsky were among those who failed to convert on those marvellous close-in chances in the early going.
"Definitely it's going to take time to see if we can fill those roles," Wellwood said. "Mainly, me."
The Senators, meanwhile, rebounded from their sluggish start to build up a 3-0 lead on goals by Patrick Eaves, Christoph Schubert and Chris Neil, who blew by defenceman Hal Gill as if he were standing still.
Daniel Alfredsson sealed the deal with an empty-net goal in the game's final minute, finishing off Ottawa's eighth victory in its past nine games versus the Leafs.
Excuses aside, the Leafs had better find their scoring touch in time for tonight's rematch against the Sens at Scotiabank Place.
And it would help, too, if stud defencemen Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle can rebound from their minus-two performances of last night.
"I think the best thing for us is to get right back out there and play them again," coach Paul Maurice said. "I thought we did some good things out there."
Not nearly enough of them, though.