Ailing Leafs given a shot in the arm

BILL LANKHOF, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 7:14 AM ET

Mats Sundin changed teams last night -- and he didn't even have to leave Toronto to do it.

All he had to do was look at the guys sitting on the Maple Leafs' bench. His wingman was Jiri Tlusty, just five goals into his NHL career. There was Robbie Earl, who made his debut on an NHL scoresheet when he set up the third goal in a 4-2 win over the Ottawa Senators.

Ben Ondrus and Kris Newbury were making their second starts since being recalled from the Marlies and then there was Carlo Colaiacovo, making another comeback from injury, scoring his first goal of the season.

Toronto's third line of Dominic Moore, with his first goal as a Maple Leaf, along with Boyd Devereaux and Earl used their speed to give the Senators fits.

"I was a little nervous in the first period. Once I got in the groove the nerves kind of subsided and it was just play," said Earl, who said his family was watching on TV in California. "I'm excited. (Coach Paul Maurice) told me to just keep things simple, play two ways and use my speed," he said.

On his first shift he worked off the backboards and almost jammed a shot past Ray Emery on the short side. With the Leafs missing six regulars they needed all the input they could get from anyone not named Sundin.

"I've never had a team (lose so many players at once) off the top end of the lineup. Having said that, there were four or five guys on the ice who are so happy to be here and in a great mood," Maurice said.

And that was before the game, before Moore scored the first goal of the game en route to being named a most-unlikely No. 1 star, before Tlusty scored his second goal in two games playing with Sundin, before Earl gave an inkling of why many people believe his speed will make him part of the Leafs' future.

"Above all, we want (Earl) to enjoy the experience, to soak up the atmosphere, because regardless of what happens with the rest of his career, whether it lasts 20 years or (a day or a week), this experience only happens once," Maurice said.

With playoff prospects and the Leafs looking about as probable as Britney Spears with a clue, this was a chance for fans to get a peek into the future -- and it wasn't horrid.

Curiously, at yesterday's morning skate, Senators' defenceman Luke Richardson already was wary.

"You get young guys coming up and they've got all that adrenalin going.

"I remember my first game ... the butterflies ... a lot of fire," he said.

"It's Saturday night. Hockey Night In Canada. I may be on the enemy side now but you can't beat it. You can still sense a special feeling when you come into the building ... and when you're playing a team giving players a chance they normally wouldn't get ... it can make a team dangerous to play against."

Earl and Colaiacovo hooked up for the winner just three minutes after Ottawa had tied it in the third.

"It was actually a broken play," said Colaiacovo, who had been looking for a pass from Moore that pinballed around before Earl found it inside the faceoff circle. Said Earl: "I just knew I had a guy on the back door. I didn't know who."

He fired a pass to Colaiacovo working through the slot.

"I just made a quick yell to let him know I was in front of the net.

"Then made sure I buried it. It felt so wonderful," Colaiacovo said.

It was his first goal since April 7 of last year.

"Rob played a heck of a game," Colaiacovo said. "If we keep getting that kind of contribution from guys coming up it'll put some life into this lineup."

It should be noted before anyone gets too excited that the Senators were almost as crippled as Toronto, playing with Chris Phillips, Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson.

But when a team is just a cow-chip removed from last place, any small step forward is cause for celebration.


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