|Maple Leafs defenceman Tomas Kaberle (left), at practice with Wade Belak, is expected to return to the lineup tonight in Buffalo. (Sun Media/Ernest Doroszuk)
A surly border guard might not be the only obstacle in Tomas Kaberle's road back to the Maple Leafs lineup tonight.
Lingering cobwebs and a touch of rust are two of the factors Kaberle likely will have to deal with should he return to the ice, as expected, for the team's huge match against the rival Buffalo Sabres at HSBC Arena.
If Kaberle receives medical clearance today as most team officials predict, he might need some time to regain his game after missing the past eight outings with a concussion.
In fact, Kaberle need only glance across at Sabres captain Chris Drury to see first-hand how difficult it is to get back to form after having one's marbles scrambled.
On Feb. 22, Drury suffered a concussion when he was crushed by the Ottawa Senators' Chris Neil. Neil's hit ignited a memorable brouhaha, one that featured Sabres tough guy Andrew Peters exchanging punches with Sens goalie Ray Emery.
Since returning from the injury, Drury has struggled, collecting just four points in eight games.
And while he can't speak for Kaberle, Drury said it takes time to feel comfortable on the ice after absorbing a severe blow to the head.
"Obviously, everyone's different and I don't know what (Kaberle's) symptoms are, (but) for myself, it took a few games," Drury said yesterday. "It's a fast-paced time of year.
"After the (all-star) break, every game gets a little faster. So missing 10 days and four games, it did take me a little while to get back up to speed."
Either way, the Leafs will welcome Kaberle back with open arms if he suits up. And so will the thousands of leather-lunged blue-and-white clad fans who will make the 90-minute drive down the QEW to see the next chapter of The Battle of the Golden Horseshoe, which concludes tomorrow evening at the Air Canada Centre.
With each one of the Leafs' remaining nine games vital to the team's playoff aspirations, Kaberle should bring some pop to the Leafs' fizzling power-play.
In Kaberle's absence, Toronto has gone 4-3-0-1, but has been a paltry 4-for-39 with the man advantage, a success rate of just 10.3%. With Kyle Wellwood back in action as well, the Leafs' No. 1 power-play unit of Mats Sundin between Wellwood and Darcy Tucker with Bryan McCabe and Kaberle on the points, will be together for the first time since December.
"It's nice to see those five guys (reunited)," Leafs coach Paul Maurice said.
Kaberle lined up with fellow Czech defenceman Pavel Kubina at practice yesterday. The other defensive pairings had McCabe partnered with Carlo Colaiacovo, and Hal Gill playing with Ian White.
"I really hope he's (playing tonight)," Kubina said of Kaberle.
"We still have a bunch of big games left, and you just can't replace a guy like that."