VANCOUVER -- The Maple Leafs' workhorse has pulled up lame, but it means a new chance for a young colt.
Bryan McCabe, the team leader in points (49), ice time (averaging 28:11 a game) and the highest scoring defenceman in the National Hockey League, pulled a groin muscle during Saturday's win in Edmonton and will not play to risk further damage tonight against the Canucks.
But for once, the circumstance favoured hard-luck Carlo Colaiacovo, whose brief Leafs career has been hindered by injuries. Colaiacovo's sprained right wrist has healed just in time for this evening, negating the need for a callup from the Marlies.
McCabe, who had played in all 42 games this season and hopes to return Saturday against the Phoenix Coyotes, felt something "tweak" as he jumped out of the penalty box on Saturday for a breakaway pass that led to a Toronto goal.
"I came through that game, we got the win and I was hoping it would settle down a bit," McCabe said yesterday at GM Place while the rest of the Leafs practised. "Hopefully, it's just one game. It sucks, because I pride myself on not missing games (only 31 out of 750 in his career). But this is not something you mess around with."
McCabe also fronts one of the NHL's best power plays. His ice time will be divided among the club's Special K defence -- Tomas Kaberle, Ken Klee, Alex Khavanov, Staffan Kronwall, Aki Berg and Colaiacovo.
"This was the game I was aiming to come back for anyway," said Colaiacovo, who missed another five games after getting hurt in Pittsburgh after Christmas. "Maybe this is the opportunity I take the most advantage of."
Colaiacovo will keep his wrist braced for the next couple of workouts, with an eye to shelving the bandage by the weekend. Trying to contain the explosive Canucks will be a challenge tonight.
"Vancouver's top line (Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi and Brendan Morrison) has a lot of skill," Colaiacovo said. "They've been in the top five or 10 scoring every year."
It's unclear who Colaiacovo will partner with tonight. Coach Pat Quinn broke up McCabe and Tomas Kaberle in even strength situations a few games ago, putting McCabe with rookie Kronwall, Kaberle with Klee and Berg with Khavanov.
"Bryan's a big part of our club, the way he has scored goals at a key point in the game," winger Darcy Tucker said.
"When we won six in a row, he was a huge part of that."
Tucker was the other Leaf to skip practice yesterday, once more to rest tender ribs. But he expects to play tonight.
Coincidentally, the Canucks could be without their best defenceman, who also has a groin injury. Ed Jovanovski will try again at practise this morning, but with Vancouver off until Friday, he won't be rushing a return. Both defencemen are on the Canadian Olympic team, McCabe on the taxi squad and any lingering pain could cause trouble for Team Canada coach Quinn.
"I think (Columbus Blue Jacket) Adam Foote is out, too," Quinn said.
"We're hoping they get back and play. Otherwise, we maybe look at alternatives."