All hands on Leafs deck

Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Pavel Kubina makes his return to the lineup tonight in Boston....

Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Pavel Kubina makes his return to the lineup tonight in Boston. (Toronto Sun File/Stan Behal)

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:23 AM ET

With the quarter pole of their season arriving tonight in Boston, only now can the Maple Leafs finally see their rebuilt defence in extended action.

No injuries, no baby arrivals, no breaking in converted forwards, no suspensions, no fretting about rookies being NHL-ready -- at least for one game as coach Paul Maurice joked yesterday.

Last year's workhorses, Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle, will be reunited, Pavel Kubina returns after five weeks away to partner Brendan Bell, who joined Ian White as survivors of a six-kid pool who began the search for work in early September.

BETTER AT BOTH ENDS

Kubina's fellow free agent, Hal Gill, has been an effective partner alongside White, which means Wade Belak goes to the fourth forward line or press box this evening.

After initial doubts on how much of an improvement the new blue-line blood would be on the likes of Aki Berg, Alex Khavanov and Ken Klee, the Leafs defence has looked a bit better at both ends as the club won 11 of its first 19 games.

But yesterday Maurice was memorizing the names of each reporter who suggested the worst of his problems with the defence could be over, convinced that any talk of contentment was tempting fate.

"Just because Pav is back, we're not laying back in here saying: 'We're going to win'," Maurice said as he headed for the airport.

And Bell laughed at any notion that he is somehow safe in the top six.

"There was a logjam of young guys at first," Bell said. "But I'm not sitting here thinking that I've got a job.

"You've got guys coming back who are hurt (Staffan Kronwall next week, Carlo Colaiacovo and Andy Wozniewski long term). I'm as comfortable as you can get in that kind of (competitive) situation."

NEW PARTNER

But Bell is certainly looking forward to partnering Kubina against the Bruins, a different twist after a few games with Kaberle, the NHL's defencemen points leader.

Kubina can concentrate on his day job again after weeks of rehab of a knee injury and the birth of daughter Tereza in the Czech Republic last week.

"It's the first time I've ever missed this many games," Kubina said. "I've called my family a couple of times a day to stay in touch, but I'm ready to concentrate on hockey now."

Kaberle perfectly summed up Kubina's full potential to the Leafs: "Good shot, good penalty-killer and he has won a Stanley Cup."

McCabe pointed out that Kubina will spell off he and Kaberle, meaning a break from the second-half burnout that plagued the latter duo when they each went over 28 minutes a game.

McCabe probably didn't want the long four-day respite in games that followed Saturday's 5-1 win over Montreal, the Leafs' seventh victory in eight games. He had three points, opening and closing the scoring that night with power-play goals reminiscent of the kind he bagged last season. He and Kaberle combined for six points against the Habs.

As Kaberle noted, teams are starting to shade McCabe less at the point to concentrate on the Leafs' newer weapon down low, the cross-crease Mats Sundin/Kyle Wellwood pass to Darcy Tucker.

"Obviously, other teams have got to try and take something away," McCabe said. "Different teams try different things against us, but we're starting to spread the scoring around."


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