Steen close to a return

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:53 AM ET

Alex Steen is getting close to returning to the Maple Leafs lineup.

But don't expect to see the rookie forward to be back in action before Monday's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Air Canada Centre at the earliest, according to coach Pat Quinn.

Steen has been out for more than a week with an injured thumb suffered in a fall during practice.

"Steen could be back in the new year but he's not expected New Year's eve (tomorrow in New Jersey)," Quinn said yesterday.

The strength is slowly returning to Steen's ailing right hand, which was heavily wrapped during the morning skate yesterday.

"It needs to calm down a bit. It's still swollen," Steen said.

"I don't know exactly when I'll return. I still have to talk to the coaches and the medical staff.

"Another reason that I'm being cautious is that I've been making some pretty good progress the past few days. I don't want to disrupt that. When I come back, I want to come back for good."

Steen has been impressed by the way the Leafs have rallied during their recent rash of injuries.

"The guys have done a helluva job," he said. "It's a unique characteristic of this team. It has really managed to build up their confidence."

KEEPING TIME

Entering play last night, Mats Sundin had registered more than 20 minutes of ice time in his previous three games.

"All players want more ice time," Sundin said. "It's a great reward for playing well.

"At the same time, we have been successful over the years here rolling four lines."

Mats Sundin, ever the politician.

MILLER TIME?

There is speculation that Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller will be part of the taxi squad of Team USA for the upcoming Olympics in Turin.

For his part, Miller is unaware of that news. He's just disappointed at not being selected in the first place.

"People want to turn it into a soap opera and put the goalies against each other but I'm not about to get into that," said Miller, who was passed over in favour of Rick DiPietro, John Grahame and Robert Esche, who is injured.


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