Belak too bold for coach

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:19 AM ET

The last time the Maple Leafs played seven in a row on the road was 1999, when they mined nine points, in a season they went to the Eastern Conference final.

But coach Paul Maurice, who hates to commit to a points objective before trips, forced a smile when told one of his players (okay, it was quote machine Wade Belak), had targeted 10 points.

"Good, we'll do that in the first five games then," the coach said half-sarcastically. "We'll put that back on the player, being that he's in the dressing room preparing the club."

The Leafs flew to Atlanta yesterday for the first of back-to-back games. They will jet to Montreal for a Hockey Night in Canada game and after a day and a half in Toronto, it's back to playing every second day in Carolina, Tampa, and South Florida, scattering for a three-day Christmas break, then reconvening for a back-to-back against the Islanders and Flyers.

"You can say 4-3 is okay and 5-2 would be great, but we can't look at anything past Atlanta," Maurice warned. "We're in the (same boat) as about 17 other teams."

With a record of 5-1-1 in their past seven games, the Leafs have modest hopes to come out of this trek solidly back among the top eight playoff teams.

"We have to make up for what happened earlier," Belak said, recounting the Leafs winning just three of their first 11 home games (3-4-4).

The Leafs' road record is 6-6-1 and their goals-against is almost half a puck better away from the Air Canada Centre, 2.92 versus 3.44.

"It's hard to explain, but we're comfortable on the road," winger Nik Antropov said. "Maybe it's because there is less pressure on us, there's not as much media, I don't know."

Belak heartily agreed that the prospect of not getting booed off the ice by their own fans, as was the case in October, has put the Leafs in a better frame of mind. That, and they do a lot more team building during their travels than in Toronto.

"After games or practices here, you tend to go your own way, the family guys go home and the single guys do whatever it is they do," Belak said. "On the road, we don't always eat together, but we tend to stay in bigger groups."

Unlike their ACC quarters, with a lounge, gym, whirlpool, medical room, two dressing areas and other hideaways so players can work out or dodge the media, visiting rooms are much smaller and keep players in close proximity.


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