Big E stepping in to fill void at centre

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:54 AM ET

Eric Lindros and Jason Allison found themselves as the Maple Leafs' No. 1 and 2 centres yesterday as the club came to grips with the possible long-term absence of Mats Sundin.

"If he doesn't get back soon, we'll have to figure out ways to win games," Allison said, having just played his first regular-season game in 21/2 years Wednesday against the Ottawa Senators. "We still have depth in the middle, so that's a positive."

Lindros took Sundin's place on the line with Alexei Ponikarovsky and Nik Antropov yesterday at Lakeshore Lions Arena.

But with winger Jeff O'Neill possibly out with a shoulder injury for tomorrow's game against the Montreal Canadiens, all other bets are off.

No. 88 had started Wednesday on a Crazy Eights line with Tie Domi (28) and Chad Kilger (18), while coach Pat Quinn has an option of keeping Matt Stajan with Alex Steen together, or switching Kilger, Antropov and/or Steen to the middle.

"A lot of guys haven't played together, but we should get better and better every game," Allison said. "We could have done a better job (Wednesday), but give Ottawa credit, it was tough for us to set up. They did a better job than most teams did limiting our space in the pre-season."

General manager John Ferguson said it was "more than likely" centre Kyle Wellwood would be summoned from the farm if a call-up is needed at forward this weekend.

"We seem to be snakebit with injuries," Quinn said in a familiar refrain.

"But it is what it is."

There was some good news yesterday on the injury front, as defenceman Ken Klee is nearing a return after missing almost all of the pre-season with a bruised heel.

"Every day I was trying and it was just getting worse," Klee said. "It was a matter of letting it calm down. I still feel it, but now it's manageable, not like I'm stepping on a big stake all the time."

Klee has been trying to replicate game situations in practice to be ready for the Habs.

"I'm trying to battle our own forwards, who are very physical, but it's not the same as a game," he said.

Klee also will be behind the rest of the defence is handling the new obstruction rules, ones that have led to crowded penalty boxes around the National Hockey League.

Defenceman Wade Belak also is in the probable category for tomorrow, the infection from a spider bite earlier this week finally subsiding.

There is a chance he could use his versatility as a forward to take O'Neill's spot and save the Leafs a call to the Marlies.

ON THE BUS

After practice, defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo met the bus to Rochester with the Marlies.

If Belak and Klee both are ready, the youngster would not be needed, even though he and fellow rookie Andy Wozniewski were not out of place against the slick Senators.


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