Leafs need some POP

Yanic Perreault leaves the ice after his first skate with the team. (Sun Media/Craig Robertson)

Yanic Perreault leaves the ice after his first skate with the team. (Sun Media/Craig Robertson)

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:37 AM ET

Paul Maurice is hoping his new POP Line can add some much-needed fizz to an offence that at times has been flat for the Maple Leafs recently.

By teaming newcomer Yanic Perreault with wingers Jeff O'Neill and Alexei Ponikarovsky, the Maple Leafs head coach is providing his new centre with a familiar face on his flank entering tonight's game against the New Jersey Devils in The Swamp.

Perreault and Ponikarovsky had a brief run as linemates with the Leafs back in 2000-01 and will be looking to rediscover that comfort level in a short time. With back-to-back games against the Devils and Buffalo Sabres this weekend, the Leafs need the POP Line to begin clicking right from the get go.

Given the fact that Perreault once again is leading the league in faceoff percentage -- a category he topped for five consecutive seasons -- O'Neill and Ponikarovsky had better be ready to see a lot of pucks come their way whenever Perreault lines up for a draw.

"One of the most important things about winning faceoffs is puck possession," Perreault said yesterday at Lakeshore Lions Arena. "You can't score if you don't have the puck."

Having just completed his first practice since being traded from the Phoenix Coyotes on Tuesday, Perreault was pelted with questions about how he developed into the quickest draw in the NHL.

Video work

"What really helped me with my faceoffs was the video work I did during my first few years in Los Angeles, back in my younger days," Perreault, 35, said. "I would study guys like Steve Yzerman and Ron Francis, players who were so good at it."

Having played alongside Francis with the Carolina Hurricanes, O'Neill knows what a good faceoff man brings to the table.

"It means, among other things, that my faceoff attempts are about to go down to zero," a chuckling O'Neill said, referring to the fact that he has been asked to take several significant draws this season.

"Yanic is a proven guy who has played well wherever he has been."

Perreault's arrival ignited a shakeup of all the lines yesterday. With his team having dropped four of its past five outings, Maurice moved John Pohl from centre to right wing on a line with Matt Stajan and Alex Steen. The fourth unit, meanwhile, is now comprised of Travis Green between Boyd Devereaux and Chad Kilger.

The most intriguing move, however, was inserting Bates Battaglia alongside Mats Sundin and Nik Antropov. It's definitely a compliment for Battaglia, who a year ago was toiling in the American Hockey League for the Marlies.

"I'm definitely happier this year than l was last year," Battaglia said. "It's always fun to play with a guy like (Mats)."


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