Leafs target Caps sniper

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:54 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- The Toronto Maple Leafs dragged some of their frustrations regarding officiating into the deserted U.S. capital, but will have another problem to contend with tonight.

The Leafs could not come up with an answer for Washington Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin last season and it's going to be interesting to witness whether they have any more success with him under Paul Maurice than they did with Pat Quinn.

"He's so much stronger and faster that he is almost impossible to play against," centre Kyle Wellwood said. "I can make plays when I am standing still or not moving very fast. He does it at top speed."

Among his 52 goals last season, the most Ovechkin recorded against one team was five. He did that to three teams and the Leafs were one of them.

The talented Russian will provide a new puzzle for Leafs goalie Andrew Raycroft, who, in 30 games in 2005-06 for the Boston Bruins, did not square off with Ovechkin and the Capitals.

Ovechkin is different than almost everyone else in the National Hockey League -- it's not easy to defend against someone who can pull tricks out of his pocket without thinking about it first -- but Raycroft was trying to keep his wits.

"Every night there is somebody," Raycroft said. "He is a special player, but we have faced quite a few special players so far this season. The key with guys like him is you try to take away his space."

The Leafs, who have lost three of their past four, practised yesterday afternoon at the downtown Verizon Center in a city that emptied a day earlier for the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday.

Coach Paul Maurice said there's no way captain Mats Sundin will return tonight from an elbow injury, but was "very optimistic" Sundin will play tomorrow night at home versus the Bruins. Maurice said he is leaning toward starting Raycroft, who has recovered fully from a groin injury, against the Bruins as well.

Some of the Leafs remained sore with the officiating not only in a 7-4 loss to the Sabres in Buffalo a night earlier but on the whole.

"I came into the league 12 years ago and it is a way different ball game out there," Jeff O'Neill said. "Some of the penalties are just ridiculous. I know (there are) five or six really quality refs in the league, and that is not a whole lot, to be honest."

Maurice was willing to acknowledge that human nature dictates that not every match will be called perfectly.

"I have absolutely no problems with the refereeing here, but one out of every couple of hundred games things go bad," Maurice said. "The officiating in the NHL is the best in the world. This is a brutal sport to try to referee. We go back into the video room and watch it five times and decide the guy is blind. While it is happening on the ice, half the stuff you don't even see from behind the bench."


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