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Leaf report card after first term
Erratic defence still a concern
But kids showing solid improvement
Nov. 18, 2005. 04:57 AM

BOSTON—The Maple Leafs hit the quarter mark of their NHL season last night with decidedly mixed results, but with a better record after 20 games than they had in 2003-04 when they set a franchise record with 103 points.

After a 4-1 win over the Boston Bruins, the Leafs enter the second quarter of this season with an 11-7-2 record and three straight wins for 24 points, which is three more than the 21 they had after the first 20 games two years ago when they compiled a 7-6-7 mark. But with one shootout victory, the Leafs would have had 23 points under the former system.

The Leafs' first quarter has been full of inconsistency, both in their results and their level of on-ice play. Here are the main themes:

Defensive play: The Leafs have been terribly erratic defensively and although they've done a very good job of shoring up their play in the past two games, it remains a concern. Of the 72 non-shootout goals the Leafs have scored, 33 have come on the Leafs league-leading power play. Not including shorthanded goals for (four) and against (three), the Leafs have been outscored by a 44-37 margin at even strength.

"The start of us getting a little bit better has been having a little more discipline in our positioning and a little more concentration on that," coach Pat Quinn said. "It has been the major reason why we've given up a lot of shots and a lot of chances."

The Leafs could very well shore that up by acquiring another NHL-calibre defenceman who can play well in his own end. The Leafs are on the lookout for such a player and one shouldn't automatically assume it's going to be Brendan Witt of the Washington Capitals. They're still uncertain whether Witt would be a positive addition.

Bryan McCabe: No defenceman has ever led the Leafs in scoring in a season, but with eight goals and 27 points in 20 games, McCabe is on pace to do just that. McCabe leads the league with 18 power-play points and has played his way into the Norris Trophy race. But he's also minus-2 and it's hard to believe that he'd be named the league's top defenceman if he remains a minus player.

Teams will undoubtedly begin to focus on McCabe more in their penalty kill and that could take away opportunities for him to shoot. But if that happens, it will open up room down low for the Leafs, who usually have Mats Sundin, Jeff O'Neill and Alex Steen doing the work there.

The kids: To say they're all right would be something of an understatement. With the Leafs finally getting it right with drafting and developing, they're beginning to see the results.

Kyle Wellwood and Alexander Steen have both been solid as rookies and are firmly in the second tier of the top rookies in the league this season. Third-year pro Matt Stajan continues to excel and rookie defenceman Staffan Kronwall has filled in admirably as the sixth defenceman.

pleae get another defencmen that will reduce or get rid of Aki Berg.
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