Sundin deserves some adulation
TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency
|Former Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin is honoured by the crowd during a break in play during a game against the Penguins at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ont., Oct. 29, 2011. (MARK BLINCH/Reuters)
TORONTO - The standing ovation for Mats Sundin during the first period was prolonged and enthusiastic.
Just as it should have been.
For whatever reason, there remains some dislike for the former Maple Leafs captain. No, Sundin — and whoever he played with — was not able to deliver a Stanley Cup to the starved Leafs Nation. And no, Sundin did not agree to be traded near the end of his time with the Leafs, a non-move that some saw as an impediment to the team’s growth.
But Sundin never took a shift off, never mind a night, and he undoubtedly played with many more injuries than were made public. Along the way, he amassed 987 points in 981 games for the Leafs, the most in franchise history.
“He is such a big part of this organization,” Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said. “I played against him, and he was a skilled guy, but a guy who worked really hard. I respect him a lot.”
None of Darryl Sittler, Doug Gilmour or Wendel Clark, loved by all in Toronto, led the Leafs to a Stanley Cup. The adulation they’re afforded should extend to Sundin.
Sundin’s No. 13 is being honoured, not retired, in February. But it could be a long time before it’s worn again by a Leaf as only Sundin, Ken Linseman and Ken Yaremchuk have done so for Toronto.
The victory was one the Leafs had to have. No matter how deep the Penguins are, they’re not as hard to play against when Sidney Crosby is not in the lineup, and it was an opportunity that Toronto couldn’t let slip past ... Seconds prior to setting up Phil Kessel for the Leafs’ winning goal, Tim Connolly made a fine play when his slid on his posterior in the neutral zone and still was able to make a pass. That kept the charge going and Kessel wound up one-timing a Connolly feed behind goalie Brent Johnson ... There’s nothing worse than parking yourself in front of the net and having your defencemen wiring shots at waist level or above. Deflections nearly are impossible and it’s usually best to just get out of the way. There’s an art to keeping the puck low, and that’s exactly what Phaneuf did in the first period for an easy re-direct by Mikhail Grabovski. Johnson couldn’t react in time, and the Leafs had the opening goal ... Evgeni Malkin made as smart a play on the Penguins’ second goal. Rather than just blast away when he got the puck at the point during a power play, Malkin waited for Grabovski, who had gone down to block the shot, to go sliding by. With Grabovski out of the way, Malkin had a clear lane to the net, and Chris Kunitz was able to score on a rebound provided by Jonas Gustavsson ... It might have seemed odd for Penguins coach Dan Bylsma to give Johnson the start against the Leafs, but his No. 1 guy, Marc-Andre Fleury, has not been anything special in his career against Toronto, winning 10 games but losing a total of 10 (seven in regulation and three in overtime or shootout). Also, Johnson had great numbers in his first three games this season, so starting him was not necessarily a step back from Fleury ... Phaneuf and John-Michael Liles did a poor job of boxing out on the Penguins’ first goal, and Matt Cooke popped the puck behind Gustavsson ... Cooke, who has come close to running himself out of the league with some of the dumbest on-ice decisions in recent memory, has been trying to shed his past. So far so good, as Cooke has taken just two minor penalties in 13 games.
FROM THE HASH MARKS
Gustavsson made a couple of saves that should be on the best-of highlight reels at the end of the week, snaring a Steve Sullivan forehand deke with his glove and stacking his pads to thwart James Neal in the third period with Toronto ahead by a goal ... Connolly scored his first goal as a Leaf and Joffrey Lupul ensured there would be a souvenir, scooping up the puck ... When we saw the Ottawa Senators three weeks ago, it was not evident that they would be in the thick of things for the Northeast Division crown a month into the regular season. But they’ve surprised much of the NHL and its observers, winning despite icing a rail-thin lineup. The Leafs are in Ottawa on Sunday for a Battle of Ontario match that should have plenty of emotion, given the nature of the standings. A scheduling quirk: In each of the six meetings between Toronto and Ottawa this season, the Sens will be playing in the second game of a back-to-back. For the Leafs, that happens just once, and it’s on Sunday ... Maybe Mike Brown was thinking about not getting an assist on Thursday against the New York Rangers, something that would have given him a Gordie Howe hat trick. But there was no excuse for Brown to blow a beautiful scoring chance by trying to pass to David Steckel, a play that was broken up by a Penguins defenceman ... Colby Armstrong is noted for his sharp sense of humour, and even when the Leafs forward is hurt he’s on his game. Watching a hunt-.and-peck typing style by a reporter in the press box, Armstrong made a crack about it. “It’s so easy to critique from up here,” Armstrong said, tongue planted firmly in cheek.