It may just be a coincidence, but the first road trip for the Toronto Maple Leafs' new psychologist saw the team finally produce some goals and show some mental toughness in holding off the Tampa Bay Lightning in the third period last night.
The Leafs pulled out the 4-3 win by outplaying the Lightning in the third period after Matt Stajan scored to give them the lead late in the second. The Leafs had lost two previous leads.
David Nonis, the Leafs' senior vice-president of hockey operations, allowed that maybe the new psychologist, Dana Sinclair, might have had something to do with the jump in scoring.
"There's lots of things to deal with during the course of the year," Nonis said. "Right now, that may be one of them.
"There's times when you're not playing at your best, you're having difficulty scoring or keeping pucks out of the net. Different things happen during the course of 82 games. You want someone who can help you get through some of those things. It's really not one specific area, it's just getting the most out of your group."
Sinclair worked with Nonis when he was general manager of the Vancouver Canucks and with Burke when he ran the Anaheim Ducks. She is a partner in the Toronto consulting firm Human Performance International, which specializes in performance enhancement. She is also a clinical assistant professor in the University of British Columbia's medicine faculty and works with a wide variety of professional teams including the Los Angeles Dodgers, Indianapolis Colts and several NHL teams.
Sinclair declined to comment after the game about her role with the team. She said she wanted to clear it with the Leafs brass before she granted an interview.
Leafs defenceman François Beauchemin, who is familiar with Sinclair from his days with the Ducks, said she deals with the players on an individual, confidential basis so it is difficult to tie her to any increase in success.
"Everything is confidential, so we don't even know who talks to her," Beauchemin said. "She is available to anyone who wants to go see her. No one is ever told to go see her because they are struggling."
Nonis, though, said he has seen her get results with his former team and with Burke's.
"Every team that I know of has someone involved in performance enhancement," he said. "We've both worked with Dana in the past and feel very comfortable she can help get the most out of our group."
By the end of the game, Nonis could say head coach Ron Wilson got the most out of a large number of Leafs last night. The coach was especially happy with the team's defensive effort in the third period when they limited the Lightning to six shots.
"We've been fairly confident, we just haven't been able to drain the puck," Wilson said of the Leafs' season-long troubles scoring goals. "We got some bounces and finished them the way we should.
"The third period was just a matter of playing the same way and we did. That's four games in a row without a regulation loss, we're picking up points and it's a matter of clawing our way back in."
Niklas Hagman scored two goals and could have had two three more, as he hit the post and Lightning goaltender Antero Niittymaki made a tremendous save on another of Hagman's chances. Hagman now has four goals in his last three games.
Also standing out were two rookies, goaltender Jonas Gustavsson and defenceman Carl Gunnarsson.
Gunnarsson finished with three assists for the Leafs. He was called up from the Toronto Marlies farm team 12 days ago when Mike Komisarek tore a quadriceps muscle and Wilson said his play guaranteed that he will be with the big team for a long stretch.
"No pretty assists but still, they counted," Gunnarsson said with a laugh, admitting that the long pass he made to Stajan for his breakaway on the winning goal was not exactly planned. "I didn't really see him. I was just trying to get the puck out of my zone because there were three guys on me."
Hagman said the big difference for him of late is simply luck, although he admitted the goals have him playing with much more confidence.
"It feels like you've got more time with the puck," he said. "You want to go and shoot the puck more. Even though that is something when you're not scoring you want to do but, I don't know, if you're forcing it, but now it comes a little more natural."
Nikolai Kulemin also scored for the Leafs while Andrej Meszaros, Vincent Lecavalier and Ryan Malone scored for Tampa.