TORONTO Dion Phaneuf typically only lands in the glare of Torontos spotlight when the team is mired in controversy (and there have been many) or when hes made such an obvious error that hockey hubs cant help but take notice. Sometimes it does seem like thats the only time that you want to talk to me, but Ive got no problem with that, said Phaneuf with a grin ahead of the Leafs sixth win in eight games, a 4-1 topping of the Calgary Flames. Truth is, Phaneuf has bounced back after a turbulent conclusion to last season. Less is typically more with the 29-year-old and with some changes to his deployment this season, Toronto is getting more from their captain. He came into Tuesdays action with a 47 per cent possession (Corsi), up substantially from the paltry 40.8 per cent mark of a year ago and a prime factor in the Leafs (mildly) improved possession as a whole this season. I feel good about the way that Ive been playing, but I feel good about the team and how weve been playing, said Phaneuf, who had two assists in nearly 24 minutes on Tuesday night. Phaneuf played some of the most difficult minutes of any defender in the league last year, eventually crumbling under the weight of that burden down the stretch. But the Leafs have eased those pressures somewhat this year, employing him more like Ron Wilson did before his dismissal. For one, theyve not buried him in the defensive zone quite as often. Phaneuf had the lowest offensive zone start percentage of any defender in hockey a year ago 22.7 per cent but that number has risen closer to 30 per cent this year. His defensive zone starts, meanwhile, have dropped nearly five percentage points to less than 32 per cent. Thats meant just a few less onerous shifts slogging it out in the defensive zone against the likes of Crosby, Stamkos and Ovechkin and more opportunity for offence (though Phaneuf has just six even-strength points so far). Phaneuf still absorbs the lions share of matchups against opposing top lines, but the presence of Roman Polak as a secondary option has helped ease that burden slightly. Prior to going down with a strained left knee, the 28-year-old Polak was able to absorb some of the tougher minutes from Phaneuf and perform adequately in doing so. The Leafs didnt have that player last year, someone the coaching staff felt trustworthy in difficult situations, and set about landing Polak and 37-year-old Stephane Robidas for such a remedy. A different partner (and side) has also made a difference. Cody Franson, an analytics favourite, has found a nice, and perhaps unexpected, fit with Phaneuf on the teams top pair. Phaneuf is driving the play more often when he plays with the 27-year-old, a big change from last season, his performance mostly dipping with Carl Gunnarsson, who battled year-long hip problems. Up for unrestricted free agency next summer, Franson has blossomed with the increase in responsibility. I think Fransons emerged and played a stronger defensive game, Carlyle said. Phaneuf is also evidently more comfortable now playing the left side after a career spent mostly on the right. The Leafs have additionally tried to use their captain just a tad less mostly at even-strength. Phaneuf was admittedly worn down by the time March came around last spring and the club has subsequently tried to tame those minutes early in the year. I think weve made a conscious effort to try not to get the 25-minute plus nights in there, Carlyle noted. Phaneuf is actually playing about the same amount on average around 23 minutes but not nearly as much as he did early in the season last fall. He was pushing 25 minutes a night from October through January, the club having no choice but to curb his minutes down the stretch of another untimely playoff collapse. The slight cut may not sound like much at this point in early December, but when the stretch drive rolls around, it will. [Its] not something you notice night in and night out, Phaneuf said, but I feel that over the long haul of a year and the amount of hockey that you do play, that it definitely probably helps. All of this doesnt change the sizeable contract six years to go with an annual cap hit of $7 million nor the question it poses for the club long-term, but its clear that by asking him to do less, the Leafs are getting more right now from their captain. Five Points 1. Habits Jonathan Bernier has stopped all but three of the 79 shots he faced in the past two games, including 32 of 33 against the Flames. Like he did against the Canucks over the weekend, the 26-year-old made a pair of key stops just before the Leafs jumped in front on Tuesday, first on Jiri Hudler in the slot and then on Johnny Gaudreau after that. Hes making a couple cross-crease saves every game that were on the bench going Holy jumpin, how is he doing this? said Peter Holland enthusiastically afterward. Thats huge for us. Its year two of Berniers bid to establish himself as viable no. 1 in the NHL and thats meant different habits on and off the ice from his days as a backup with the Kings. Its completely different, he said. When you play 10, 15 games a year, youve got to stay on after practice for more than an hour almost. Rest is not what you need; you need reps when you dont play much. When you play a lot, you rely on [a] short practice or morning skate to stay sharp and obviously when you play that many games you dont really have to stay sharp in practice you just play so much right. Bernier, who made 54 starts total with Los Angeles, is on pace for nearly 60 alone this season in Toronto. To manage that workload, hes tried to get more rest where possible, cutting down on his practice time and opting out of some morning skates. Thats the time that you want to rest as well, he says. Bernier was making his ninth straight start Tuesday, which set a new career-high. 2. No. 1 Berniers track record is probably still too thin to gauge just how good he is or can be, but the numbers look promising in his brief Toronto tenure. Save Percentage from start of 2013-14 to present (entering Tuesdays play) Goalie Save Percentage Carey Price .925 Tuukka Rask .925 Semyon Varlamov .924 Ben Bishop .922 Sergei Bobrovsky .922 Jonathan Bernier .921 Jaroslav Halak .921 Jonathan Quick .921 Roberto Luongo .920 Corey Crawford .919 *Minimum 50 games played Im feeling pretty confident, pretty comfortable in there, said Bernier after Tuesdays outing. 3. Still Dry He didnt have a shot on goal through two periods, but Phil Kessel did score for the third time in four games, an empty-netter that sealed victory and obfuscated what was another quiet night for the Leafs best player. It was just the second even-strength goal and third even-strength point for the 27-year-old in the past 11 games. His line, which came through with a power play goal from James van Riemsdyk, was the least effective of the four for Toronto outshot and out-possessed badly by the feisty Flames. Kessel, van Riemsdyk, and Tyler Bozak were all held under 30 per cent possession at even-strength. Teams are pinning their best defencemen up against them and its difficult to get them away from the defensive matchup because if you dont win a faceoff, then the opposition has an opportunity to change, Carlyle said, citing a slew of lost faceoffs in the final period. Kessel continues to lead the Leafs in scoring, a good chunk of that production lately coming on the leagues 10th ranked power play. 4. Assertiveness Scoring for the seventh time this year on Tuesday night, Peter Holland set a new career-high doing so in a dozen fewer games than last season. Joffrey Lupul, who extended his point streak to five games with an assist on Hollands goal, detailed the difference he noticed in the 24-year-old from year to year. Hes got a little more confidence, said Lupul, and I think hes a little more assertive physically, which is a tough thing for a younger guy in the league right when youre breaking in, to start battling from junior hockey and American League defencemen to NHL. But hes certainly a lot more assertive this year. 5. Winnik on the PK Occupying the role previously played by Jay McClement, Daniel Winnik is leading all NHL forwards in shorthanded ice-time this season. Winnik, who actually killed penalties alongside McClement in Colorado, is averaging nearly four minutes per game, just edging out Red Wings forward Drew Miller for the overall lead despite playing three fewer games. Lately, Randys been really trying to get me out there as much as possible on the PK, Winnik said. That would be an understatement. Winnik drew nearly eight and a half minutes on the kill over the weekend against Vancouver, pushing nearly six minutes a few nights earlier against Dallas. Hes been effective too, helping rally Torontos penalty kill from the doldrums of last season to a spot just outside the top 10 so far. You look at the team last year and they didnt have a great penalty kill and I knew that theyd want to improve on it and I knew by signing here that that would be my role is to help the penalty kill get better, Winnik said. Stats Pack 12-0-0 Leafs record when scoring first this season, one of only two teams with an unbeaten mark. 8 Points for Nazem Kadri in the past six games, including just his second on the power-play against the Flames. 3 Even-strength points for Phil Kessel in the past 11 games. 9.71% Leafs league-leading 5-on-5 shooting percentage entering Tuesdays play. 5-games Point streak for Joffrey Lupul, who has eight points in that span. 7 Goals for Peter Holland this season, a career-high. Special Teams Capsule PP: 1-2 Season: 21.2% PK: 2-3 Season: 83.3% Quote of the Night Hes making a couple cross-crease saves every game that were on the bench going Holy jumpin, how is he doing this? - Peter Holland, on the recent play of Jonathan Bernier. Up Next The Leafs visit the Red Wings on Wednesday. Wholesale Jerseys For Sale . - Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery was so busy in free agency he didnt mind having a few extra weeks to prepare for the draft. Cheap Jerseys Free Shipping . 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Van Slyke drove in a career-high four runs with two homers off struggling left-hander Tony Cingrani, and the Los Angeles Dodgers pulled away to a 6-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Monday night, a rare comfortable win in their pitching-dominated series.ROME - With nearly half the stadium closed to fans as punishment for territorial chants, not much was missed in a 0-0 draw between second-place Roma and fifth-place Inter Milan in Serie A on Saturday. Both sides came closest to scoring in the first half, when Roma had a goal from Mattia Destro waved off for offside and Inters Rodrigo Palacio headed high. "A draw was a fair result. Neither squad had many chances," Roma midfielder Miralem Pjanic said. The draw moved Roma provisionally within eight points of Juventus, which is heading toward its third consecutive title. Inter moved two points ahead of Hellas Verona in the race for the final Europa League spot. Roma had won eight straight at home seven in Serie A and one in the Italian Cup. On Sunday, Juventus visits AC Milan, third-place Napoli plays at Livorno, and fourth-place Fioreentina hosts Lazio.dddddddddddd Roma was ordered to close the sections behind both goals, where the ultras sit, for anti-Naples chants during a cup match last month. Further insults heard against Sampdoria resulted in a third section being closed. Some 500 fans protested the ban outside the stadium by lighting fireworks and flares. Second-half substitute Pjanic nearly put Roma ahead in the 75th but his effort was denied with a tough save from Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic. "I could have done better but he made a good save," Pjanic said. On the ensuing corner, Pjanic rose above the defence for a header but missed the target. Replays could be used to ban Romas Daniele De Rossi for physical contact with Mauro Icardi during the first half and Inters Juan Jesus for contact with Alessio Romagnoli toward the end of the game. ' ' '