They're waiting for the celebration in Toronto, as Captain Mats Sundin circles Darryl Sittler's record for goals of 387, but remains stymied on each attempt.
The problem is, that Sundin isn't all that focused on personal stats, his game is that of the team player, the play maker and the guy looking to help his team mates get better. In the midst of a dog fight for a playoff spot, the last thing the tall Swede wants to have is a concentrated media campaign over his closing in on the Sittler achievement.
The Leafs have five games remaining to try and secure a playoff spot, Sundin no doubt will be quite happy if they do that with or without a chance to shake Darryl's hand at centre ice. As much as Sittler would like the opportunity soon.
Somehow though you kind of hope that Sundin strings together a hat trick to make his mark in a most dramatic fashion, he's been a quiet leader and one of the few bright lights year after year in a Toronto uniform, if anyone deserves a chance to bask in the appreciation of the Air Canada Centre faithful its Sundin.
Paul Hunter of the Toronto Star examined the quest for 387...
Sittler's restless over Sundin funk
Sittler's restless over Sundin funk
`Hopefully he'll score a few,' says former Leaf great of current captain's bid for 389th goal
March 31, 2007
Paul HunterSports Reporter
If Mats Sundin breaks Darryl Sittler's record for career goals as a Maple Leaf tonight, no one would be happier than Darryl Sittler. And if not tonight against Pittsburgh, then soon.
"We've got five games left and they're all important; hopefully he'll score a few," said Sittler, the former captain who has a vested rooting interest as a community representative for the team.
"Mats has been playing really well. He's creating scoring chances. He's just in a little funk getting them to go in."
That, perhaps better than any, is a perfect description of the Sundin conundrum.
Ever since he rocketed to within two goals of Sittler's chart-topping 389 goals way back on Feb.24, it's as if a force field has gone up around the opposition net. Most nights, he's the best Leaf on the ice, if not the best player on the ice, but Sundin has just one goal in the last 15 games – his 388th for Toronto – and none in the last seven.
His teammates say they haven't noticed. His coach says he isn't worried. And his team is winning just enough (7-6-2 in those 15 games) to stay teasingly close to a playoff spot.
But how much better off would they be if Sundin had kept up the half-goal-a-game pace he'd established before this drought? Likely in Atlanta, for example, if one of those tantalizingly close wrap-arounds had slipped in to the Thrashers' net, it would have been the Leafs who came home with the extra point.
"I look at it a little more from a team concept," said coach Paul Maurice yesterday, noting that Sundin's winger Nik Antropov has been on a relative tear recently. He has seven goals in the last 13 games. Sundin does have 12 assists in the last 15 games.
"Nikky is on fire partly because Mats is there," said the coach.
Still Maurice was concerned enough after Toronto's 3-2 overtime loss at Atlanta to seek out Sundin, just to take a measure of how the captain was feeling about himself.
"Mats is very intense so you just watch him to make sure he's not beating himself up too much," said Maurice. "I talked to him after the game and his assessment was exactly what mine was. He felt really good. He said, `I felt good in the game. I generated some things.' So as long as he's feeling positive, it's not a confidence issue. He's feeling good about his opportunity to generate offence."
And the Leafs believe the oft-repeated hockey wisdom that if the chances are there, the puck will eventually go in. In the meantime, Toronto has been getting scoring from unexpected sources during Sundin's slump. Even defenceman Hal Gill chipped in with a key goal against Atlanta.
"That's not secondary scoring; that's tertiary scoring," joked Maurice.
Sundin did not take to the ice during yesterday's optional practice – though 16 players did, a rather remarkable turnout given that Maurice tried to convince several players not to attend. But the captain's teammates spoke on his behalf, most noting they didn't even realize Sundin was in a prolonged slump since he seems to be at the top of his game.
"I think he playing awesome. If the pucks aren't going in as much, you don't really notice just because his effort is always there and his leadership is always there," said John Pohl.
Pohl said one of Sundin's traits that impresses him the most is that he truly is a selfless player who pays little heed to his own statistics.
"A lot of people say it about people but it's not really true. But it is really, really true about Mats and that is, he doesn't care about any individual records. What does he have to prove? When he says, `I don't care who scores,' he truly means it. I believe it 100 per cent," said Pohl.
"All he cares about is winning."