Positive signs for the Leafs and Rangers

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:29 AM ET

NEW YORK -- Here's something to chew on for those who think the Maple Leafs aren't getting a bang for their buck.

The six assists for Pavel Kubina, their much maligned $5-million US defenceman, is twice as many points as Scott Gomez, the New York Rangers' $10-million free agent, and as many as Chris Drury, who received $7.1 million this year for changing addresses.

As a team, the Rangers meet the Leafs tonight tied for last in the Atlantic Division with a record of 3-5-1.

But New York sports fans, notorious for razzing big-money busts, aren't howling too loud yet. A 2-0 win over the New Jersey Devils on Thursday marked the third straight contest that coach Tom Renney's team held the opposition to one goal or less.

The irony of beating a team such as the Devils at their own suffocating game was not lost on the Rangers. If they have to do it with defence this year in what should be an even tighter Eastern Conference race, so be it.

"I think the fans have been understanding," Renney said yesterday. "They recognize a team that works hard every night. Now we're getting some traction. Only one game turned into a track meet for us (a 5-3 loss to Atlanta on Oct. 18)."

Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who had to make just 22 saves for his ninth career shutout on Thursday, is willing to wait on some offensive help as long as Gomez, Drury, Brendan Shanahan and Petr Prucha play well on his side of centre.

"Chris and Scott have been on championship teams and they have a lot of influence on the ice and in the room," Renney said. "I talked to Henrik today that it's night and day from a year ago when we didn't know where we were heading (offensively or defensively). Our mistakes are much less glaring.

"But we will score the way we have to, it's a matter of time. Right now, our power play is struggling and it's had an influence on everything else offensively. We're over-passing a lot."

Enter the Leafs, still high from Thursday's 5-2 shocker win in Pittsburgh, playing an efficient game reminiscent of last January when the depleted dressing room looked like the emergency ward at Toronto General. That team reeled off five straight wins.

Forwards Darcy Tucker and Kyle Wellwood and defencemen Bryan McCabe and Carlo Colaiacovo remain out with forward Mark Bell down to three games remaining in his league suspension after tonight.

"You get a lot of guys with more ice time thinking, this is the chance I deserve $10 million," coach Paul Maurice said in trying to explain the sudden success in Pittsburgh. "Chad Kilger, Simon Gamache, Boyd Devereaux, Jiri Tlusty ... there was a certain looseness to our bench, no panic."

Toronto has not won back-to-back this month, so taking both games on a trip that looked so hopeless at mid-week would be a tremendous boost. But the bright lights of Broadway do funny things to the Leafs, who seem to either score in buckets here or get thoroughly whipped.

Renney has charted the rise of Leaf centres Mats Sundin and Nik Antropov through the month to the top 10 of NHL scoring.

"We know they're on the attack and we don't want anything done at our expense," Renney said. "We're thinking about (tonight's) game, but also to give the Leafs something to think about in three or four games from now (when the Rangers are in Toronto for the Nov. 10 Hall of Fame game)."

As Tlusty did for the Leafs, the Rangers had two goals from a young player against the Devils.

Nigel Dawes, a former Canadian junior star, had both on a line with Drury and Shanahan.


Videos

Photos