Leafs taking their lumps

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:39 AM ET

Paul Maurice must have been a naughty boy this year.

Asked last week what would top his Christmas wish list in his first year coaching the Maple Leafs, Maurice didn't hesitate to say "a healthy team."

But after a week of camp and heading into three consecutive exhibition games this weekend, he is without three defencemen and two forwards thanks to a variety of nagging ailments. Alex Suglobov came perilously close to joining them with a bad shoulder injury yesterday when he slipped coming full tilt at Andrew Raycroft on a shootout drill and slammed into the Ricoh Coliseum boards. He emerged unscathed.

"Believe it or not, we probably have more guys standing than I thought," Maurice quipped after a week of high-tempo workouts and three exhibition games. "I'm pleased so far. This is probably the kiss of death, but we haven't had a significant injury. Today was the day (to worry). Many of these players got in late last night (from a 3-1 win in Ottawa) and had a pretty quick turnaround. But I didn't hear too many screams out there."

After two groups practised for an hour, defenceman Tomas Kaberle ventured out with a small group of Marlies farmhands, testing a groin strain that has bothered him since Sunday's Blue and White game.

"It feels better than the last time I skated," Kaberle said, though he still can't push off pain-free.

Told that Maurice might not play him at all this weekend, Kaberle said his intention was still to make the road trip to Montreal and Halifax (for a game against the Senators on Sunday) and at least try a full practice.

But Pavel Kubina (hip flexor), Carlo Colaiacovo (headaches), Ben Ondrus and Wade Belak were rested. Belak, who might have a hip problem said yesterday he was day to day, while all Maurice would reveal about Ondrus was that "some part of his body hit some part of the boards."

Kubina went to block a shot in Ottawa and twisted the wrong way.

"Of course, you don't want to see it get worse, but you also don't want to miss many days at camp," Kubina said.

The Leafs continue to give Colaiacovo plenty of time off in the hopes his low-grade headaches will dissipate.

Maurice insisted the rate of attrition at this camp is not a direct result of its rigours, which most agree are more arduous than previous Pat Quinn autumn gatherings.

"It might be harder than what they're used to, but I'm not worried," Maurice said. "For the future of this team and the direction that we want to go, we can not have a soft camp."

The silver lining of the injuries means more playing time for the bubble boys, namely defencemen Staffan Kronwall, Ian White, Brendan Bell, Jay Harrison and Andy Wozniewski.

With so many games coming up, Maurice has no shortage of chances to grade them in battle conditions.


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