Third line proving to be most consistent

BILL LANKHOF -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:36 AM ET

Darcy Tucker gets the headlines. Mats Sundin is the face of the Maple Leafs. Guys named Tlusty and Stralman are the designated future of this franchise and Alex Steen and Matt Stajan have been its star-crossed reality.

CONSISTENT

But amidst a sea of inconsistency, the Leafs most consistent performers are also their most anonymous.

Nobody during the past month contributed more shift to shift than Dominic Moore alongside Chad Kilger and Boyd Devereaux. Last night, in a 3-1 win over Columbus, Moore and Devereaux set up the opening goal. Then, after the Blue Jackets closed the gap to 2-1, Moore set up Kilger just 74 seconds later.

"Getting that goal back was big. We didn't want to give them momentum. You don't want to give a team hope," Moore said.

Between that, neutralizing Rick Nash, and a Toronto defence that blocked 22 shots it meant: Game Over.

"The three of us play a pretty mature game. We have the speed to get into the offensive zone and get the puck back and the size to protect it and get it to the net and see what happens," Moore said. "By mature I mean knowing when to be more aggressive, when to back off, how to manage the game. That usually comes with experience and I think the three of us have that ability."

Sunday, against Boston, it was a goal by Moore that turned an abysmal first period for the Leafs into a platform for a comeback.

Moore, much like his linemates, has had to take a blue-collar approach to find his niche. Even then his hold on an NHL job has been tenuous. In 2005-06 he played 82 games with the Rangers, then was traded to Pittsburgh. The past two years were spent frustrating himself in Jacques Lemaire's system in Minnesota.

"It seemed like I had a harness on at times," said Moore, who was claimed on waivers Jan. 11. "In Minnesota, it was a case of the style they play. I was basically skating backward all the time. It was sit back. That's not the way I play. I'm more of a forward skating, get in on the forecheck, kind of player.

"In general the East Conference is a lot more flowing, forward skating and hard forecheck than the west," Moore said, "I liked Jacques a lot but his style is even more ..."

He doesn't complete the thought. "Let's just say," Moore said, "that I was excited to be back in the East where I could go below the tops of the circles."

And, while he had a chance to play with Jarkko Ruutu in New York, and has teamed with Ryan Whitney in Pittsburgh, he says the games he has played with Toronto may be the best opportunity he has had since breaking into the NHL. "I think it is true, the ice time has been good (he's averaging 121/2 minutes a night), and playing with linemates that mesh well has helped, too. We read off each other well.

"In New York, with Ruutu ... I was with some really talented players there, too. But sometimes it's not so much talent that makes a good line, there has to be the right mesh. I think we've got that here. (Kilger and Devereaux -- who left in the third period with an undetermined knee injury) are the kind of guys that are underrated. They do a lot of small things, good things, that go unnoticed."

Moore's not big (6-foot, 185 pounds) but, Maurice said, "he's gritty, he doesn't have the pressure here to be a scorer but he's a good defensive centre, good penalty killer."

Toronto needed that when they ran into four consecutive penalties to open the second period. Columbus got three shots through to Toskala.

UNCERTAINTY

Moore is an unrestricted free agent after the season, but after playing in five cities in five pro seasons, he realizes 16 games with the Leafs do not guarantee a long-term home.

"We'll see what happens in the summer. I really enjoy playing in a place where people love hockey. I grew up with that. There are ups and downs that go with that because the passions run high and low. But I'd rather have that than no passion at all."


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