Size does matter for Leafs' PK

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:09 AM ET

They aren't so much a gang as just plain gangley.

But the penalty killers, an unglamourous rubber band of brothers, is one of the few parts of the Maple Leafs in working order in the first days of the season. Comprised mostly of the tallest Leafs 6-foot-4 and up, they ended a taxing home-and-home with Ottawa with their dignity, killing off eight of 10, where the potent Sens were held to 30 shots overall.

On Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens, the group were 6-for-6, including crucial tests in the last minute of regulation and a 4-on-3 in overtime. It helped the Leafs to their first win, pumped the tires of new goaltender Vesa Toskala and bought at least 48 hours of calm to Bay St.

"They put guys like me, Hal Gill, Pavel Kubina and Andy Wozniewski out there because we have that long reach," said 6-foot-6 Nik Antropov, whose full extension poke check over the blueline capped a great effort on the 4-on-3.

On 5-on-3s, a frequent occurence these days with the Leafs still running afoul of NHL obstruction, Toronto utilizes the new partnership of Gill and Wozniewski. The 6-foot-7 Gill is very adept at stretching to take away the side-door pass to the slot. The two men supplied seven of the 18 shot blocks recorded on Saturday.

"We've got two Western Canadian guys together (Bryan McCabe and Ian White), two Europeans (Kubina and Kaberle) and two Americans (Wozniewski and Gill)," coach Paul Maurice noted with a grin. "We're just trying to keep things consistent."

Until their recent demotion, there were also two Swedes as a practice duo, Anton Stralman and Staffan Kronwall.

With Wozniewski able to stay healthy, the partnership with Gill gives Toronto a good shutdown duo against the other team's top line. The tradeoff was lumping like-minded offensive blueliners together in McCabe and White, the latter used to having Gill as his insurance policy when he took off.

"Gill was the opposite to me, but Bryan and I work well," said White, who teamed with McCabe on the first goal against the Habs. "If one guy goes up, the other stays back."

The Leafs' penalty-killers also have some dash at the front of the quartet, with forwards Matt Stajan, Alex Steen, Boyd Devereaux, Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky. Stajan had a key shot block on Saturday that Maurice thought might have been the most important play other than Kaberle's winning goal.

Kaberle's 4-on-3 strike was the first in 18 tries by the Leafs' power play, which will get plenty of work in the two practices leading to tomorrow's home game against Carolina. Maurice chalked up some of the power play's struggles to fatigue.


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