'Incremental steps' for Leafs PK

Take a bow, Joey Crabb! The Maple Leafs' penalty-killing isn't the worst in the NHL any more....

Take a bow, Joey Crabb! The Maple Leafs' penalty-killing isn't the worst in the NHL any more. (CRAIG ROBERTSON/QMI Agency files)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:01 PM ET

The feat wasn't big enough for the Maple Leafs penalty killers to high five and chant: 'We're No. 29!'

But it beats being 30th in the NHL, where they were sentenced for almost all of the first half for their frequent failings with the man advantage. Then came a major strategy session on Jan. 2, with meetings, videos and special drills. Since that date, they are 17-for-17 in 13 games and slightly better than Columbus, at least before Friday night (75.4% to 75.3%).

"Hey, it's all about incremental steps," winger Joey Crabb said. "We feel really good about doing that. I read a stat (in the Toronto Sun) that we're the first team since 1974 not to allow a power play goal in one month of games. That was pretty cool. I know there weren't a lot of kills for us to make, but it boosted our confidence."

No club in the 30-team NHL era has ever made the playoffs with the league's worst penalty killing. And according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last time Toronto posted at least a 13-game streak without a power-play goal against was 1940-41 when it was up to 15 games.

CASTING A GIANT SHADOW

With Super Bowl Sunday coming up, it would appear the New England fan club in the Leafs room is a very small one.

"Most guys are saying Giants, but me, Phil Kessel and Tim Connolly are leaning towards the Patriots," Tyler Bozak said.

"Tom Brady is too good and too experienced to lose two Super Bowls in a row. I'll put something down to bet Joffrey Lupul."

Coach Ron Wilson is also standing Pat.

"I root for the Patriots. I respect what they've done since 2001. They've been a model franchise for any team in sport," he said

KEEPING 'EM HONEST

Darryl Boyce, dislodged from the fourth line by back spasms last month, is adjusting to a new role as practice practitioner

"You have to be that guy in practice to push everybody else to (increase) the pace," Boyce said.

"Someone has to be sitting out. The team is winning games, so there isn't much I can about it."

His injury did flare up earlier this season with the Marlies, but Boyce says it's not a concern.

"It's not disc, it's muscle. I would think it's wear and tear. Being a left-handed shot, you're always stretching out that part of your back and on faceoffs you're getting down low."

BRUISE BROTHERS

Wilson was asked about Carl Gunnarsson's value as a shot-blocker after the defenceman showed a reporter bruises on his arms that came from the two games earlier this week against Pittsburgh.

"Those are the bruises left over from the beating he took from Crabb last week," Wilson guffawed, referring to a fight spawned by an intense practice.

"He was trying to block all those punches thrown at him. Shot-blocking bruises? Baloney."

LOOSE LEAFS

Connolly has contributed $100,000 to his hometown of Syracuse's new Upstate Cancer Center as well as arranging for young cancer patients in the Toronto area to attend 10 Leafs games in a private box this season ... Boyce refused to believe it when a reporter approached him with a video camera to ask about Sam Gagner's eight-point night for the Oilers. Boyce kept looking around for a second camera to see if he was being pranked. When he was finally informed it was true, he said he had gone to bed when Gagner had three points and hadn't bothered to listen to updates.


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