Leafs on wrong side of tracks now

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:13 AM ET

A big railway corridor separates the Maple Leafs from their minor leaguers, but nowadays it's the parent team on the wrong side of the tracks.

As the Leafs muddle along in mediocrity, the Marlies are off to a flying start, 6-0-0-1, one of two undefeated American Hockey League teams.

"We have a regular lineup, something we didn't have for two games in a row last year with injuries and call-ups," coach Greg Gilbert said yesterday, as the team boarded a bus at Ricoh Coliseum for their first long road trip. "Especially on defence, we're more strongly positioned in those injury situations."

The Marlies imported players such as leading scorers David Ling and defenceman David Walser, goaltender Scott Clemmensen to tutor Justin Pogge and have former Leafs Ben Ondrus, Kris Newbury, Staffan Kronwall and Jay Harrison trying to get back to the big club.

Naturally, when the Leafs encounter problems such as Monday night's massacre, hopes get raised at Ricoh. Last week the club summoned Jiri Tlusty, Anton Stralman and Kronwall, before returning the latter. But a journeyman such as ex-Columbus Blue Jacket Walser knows to temper expectations.

"We have to worry about our own game, because what happens up top is out of our control," he said. "The guys playing up there had the best camp and won the jobs, so good luck to them. You can't talk about whether you feel they called the right guy up, just try and play your game. So when the time comes, they make the right decision."

The Clemmensen-Pogge experiment, with games divided almost equally so far, is working Gilbert said. Pogge, the much ballyhooed junior star was thrust into a starting role last year without the comfort zone the team has now in its own end.

"The hype has calmed down quite a bit," Gilbert said. "He's set it aside and just worked on his game. Scotty's got the experience and we're almost in a rotation situation, but I can see the time when one guy gets a few games in a row."

The Marlies have a league-leading 4.57 goals a game and collected five home victories in four fewer months than last year.

"There is a maturity on this team, no scrambling," Walser said. "We're deeper and not just on defence."


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