Many things to like about Leafs

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:03 AM ET

This was a tap on the shoulder for a Maple Leafs team that shouldn't need to be reminded about the value of a solid work ethic.

The Leafs are not dripping with talent. Mats Sundin stands out so dramatically because he is head and shoulders the best player on this team.

All the early season buzz around the Air Canada Centre has been generated by a Leafs team that has worked its collective tail off from the moment it arrived at training camp.

Last night, against a Colorado team struggling to find its identity, the Leafs came out of the gate flying, dominating through the first three minutes, time enough to establish a 1-0 lead.

Then .... nothing. For 57 minutes.

Before 10 minutes had passed, the Avalanche had tied the game on a play where Colorado had three shots without a Toronto defender intervening. In the second period, they took the lead and carried it through the third period, scoring twice more.

Worst game

"Overall it was probably our worst game so far,' Sundin said. "We didn't have the jump we had in the previous six games. I think we looked sluggish. I don't know if it was the three days off that made us look that way but for some reason we didn't have the jump we have had.

"I think if you look at all the games, this was our worst. We started pretty good but we didn't have the same intensity as the other games."

For this kind of team, trying to compete in the high-energy brand of hockey being played in the NHL, "sluggish" just doesn't cut it. It's a speed game, a skating game and if you arrive at the rink without your legs, you arrive at the rink with nothing.

"The first three or four shifts we played well," coach Paul Maurice said. "We just struggled after that. We didn't skate very well. We also didn't look very confident with the puck but that all stems from a lack of skating."

It was hard to equate the team that played so indifferently last night to the club that battled so desperately with the Calgary Flames last Saturday, a game that ended with a magnificent moment on Sundin's 500th NHL goal. Sundin's overtime winner brought the house down and the team basked in the reflected glow of Sundin's moment.

That special experience, coupled with three days off, may have had an effect on last night's game.

"We've become a real tight group," defenceman Brendan Bell said. "A few days off, after a big win and Mats' big goal, we were feeling pretty good in here.

"We were wondering about that. We thought we might come out a bit soft. But that wasn't the case. We came out with some energy but it turned kind of choppy out there and that's what really killed us. I don't think we were ready for that.

"We've got to find ways to win on days like this. The ice was slow, everybody was slow. It just seemed that nobody had that up-tempo game that we have to have to win."

High energy

High energy is the bare minimum in today's NHL. Hard work is a given. Nobody gets to take nights off and certainly not an entire team, as the Leafs did against the Avs.

The Leafs have a demanding schedule coming up. they play eight of their next 13 on the road, including stops against division rivals Buffalo, Ottawa, Montreal and Boston.

After tomorrow's game in Columbus, Toronto plays its next 27 games against Eastern Conference opponents. By the end of that stretch, just before Christmas, a lot more will be known about the character of this team.

Prior to the game, Sundin's teammates presented him with a framed picture, puck, stick and game sheet from last Saturday. They also presented him with an expenses-paid golf holiday for four in Ireland.

If the Leafs play too many more games like the one they played last night, for the second year in a row there could be a gaping hole in Sundin's day-planner next spring. Anybody knows what the weather's like in Ireland ... in April?


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