Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Mats is Gone ... Time for Sombody to Step Up

Unless you were in a coma today (beer induced does not count), you have likely heard that our captain, Mats Sundin, is out with ligament damage ^ in his elbow. He suffered the injury on Monday during a first period collision with Ben Eager of the Flyers, but stayed around to finish the game, even though in pain.

It is expected that the big Swede will miss up to four weeks, leaving a hole so big in the Leafs lineup that it might be mistaken for Patrick Lalime's five-hole.

The reality is, there simply is no such thing as replacing everything that Mats brings to the table. Timely goals, leadership, dominating forecheck and quarterbacking the powerplay. Yeah, he's kind of important. In fact, from just after the Olympic break last season and continuing into this season, he has 44 points in just 30 games, and has at times been completely dominant.

Time to Step Up

What does all this mean? Should Leaf fans forestall their misery and jump ship, as their team sinks rudderlessly into oblivion? Well, not exactly. There is a glint of hope in all of this. There are a number of players on this Leafs squad that either have something to prove, or have shown flashes of real ability.

Antropov: For better or for worse, when Sundin returns in a month, we will have answered the age-old question: "Can Antropov actually play in the NHL?".

Up until now, that answer is a resounding NO, but in this next fortnight x 2, Antropov will be given ever chance to finally prove his many critics wrong. He has a chance, for the first time in his career, to actually lead the team. I am eagerly awaiting the game in Boston, for many reasons, but this more so than others.

Matt Stajan: In an earlier post, I mentioned that I though Stajan has really stepped it up this year. His numbers are up, and he has become the Leafs most rounded player following Sundin. He is solid in his own end, kills penalties, runs the #2 PP unit, and best of all, makes all of his linemates better. Want proof? His winger, Jeff O'Neill, is currently a +3, and Matt has probably had the primary assist on every single one of his 5 goals to-date. I can't wait to see how this kid reacts to the extra minutes and responsibility. This may be Stajans big coming out party.

Alex Steen: Off to an extremely slow start, and playing uncharacteristically lackadaisical, Alex has played better in recent games. Funny, last season I would have bet a billion dollars (thanks Eddie) that Steen would be the better all-round player between himself and Stajan. How wrong I was. Maybe this will be the kick in the pants he needs to shake the sophomore slump? Maybe he just has a case of the Mondays? (nods towards Michael 'Mike' Bolton).

Talk about an early season test! If the Leafs can remain in the hunt, and a few players can step-up, we may actually be in a better position come April, as odd as that sounds. Or they could be battling the Flyers for last place in the East...

Question; what exactly is a Philadelphia 'Flyer'? Answer in an upcoming entry...

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