That is hockey code for a lack of grit, a sentiment indirectly aimed not at his own club—Toronto is the NHL's second-most-penalized team—but the Senators'. In that Jan. 31 game, a 5-1 Ottawa loss during which Toronto goalie Ed Belfour all but carved his initials into the backs of the legs of the Senators who got near his crease, Ottawa was "embarrassed," G.M. John Muckler says. "We didn't show up."
Questions about the Senators' intestinal fortitude were raised again five nights later, this time by a flu bug. "I looked over, and there were only like four guys on their bench," says Roberts. Ottawa grabbed a 4-0 lead but lost 5-4 in overtime when nearly half its players were back in the locker room, either hooked up to IVs or heaving. Said Leafs right wing Owen Nolan after the game, "Boo hoo."
Muckler toughened his lineup by trading for Anaheim Mighty Ducks veteran defense-man Todd Simpson, who arrived in Ottawa on the eve of the flu game. When asked if he hated Toronto, the Vancouver native laughed and said, "Doesn't everybody?" Like many Canadians, he resents the national fuss over the Leafs and the center-of-the-universe snootiness of the city. Simpson was acquired as an additional blue line stopper and backup for cruiserweight Chris Neil. Eight days later the Senators added a bona fide Domi antidote when Muckler talked right wing-pugilist Rob Ray out of retirement. ( Ray would turn out to be one of the principals in the Senators' wild swingfest with the Philadelphia Flyers on March 6 that resulted in an NHL-record 419 penalty minutes.) Judging by the response of Toronto fans who flooded the phone lines of Ottawa sports-talk shows the day of the trade, Maple Leaf Nation was suitably unimpressed.
If the hockey gods smile, the coming two matches between the Leafs and the Senators will be a precursor to an eagerly anticipated playoff meeting. Forget goal totals. The most telling number will be the decibel count.