Bell-wether day for Leafs

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 1:27 PM ET

Vexed by so many troubles in the assembly stage, the Maple Leafs try to re-launch their brand tonight in Ottawa.

Left winger Mark Bell and centre Kyle Wellwood, two players management counted on to improve the product and playoff hopes, will make their long-awaited season debuts in the 16th game of the schedule.

Paul Maurice initially was concerned the two forwards might get too carried away when they get on Scotiabank Place ice, lining up for now with John Pohl on the right. But after such a long wait, the coach doesn't have the heart to keep them on short leashes.

"I hope Mark is all over the ice the first couple of shifts and I won't mind if he beats it up a bit," Maurice said with a smile yesterday at Lakeshore Lions Arena. "This man has been through as much as anyone can handle and has handled it very well.."

This will be Bell's first game since the 2007 playoffs with San Jose, a season played under the cloud of a drunk- driving charge and a knee injury. Wellwood hasn't been in a regular-season game for the Leafs since getting a goal and assist versus Montreal last April 7.

After going virtually injury-free in his career, Wellwood has missed almost 50 games with a sports hernia that has needed two surgeries.

"I've got a lot of respect now for people who've come back from injuries," Wellwood said.

The last part of his conditioning included working with a power-skating instructor.

"I was having trouble reaching stride on my right side where I was hurt," Wellwood said. "That helped my muscle memory. I've been bag skated two or three weeks (with no setbacks) and that's encouraging."

The absence of Wellwood's moxy on the power play has influenced the Leafs' low ranking of 26th in the NHL (13.4%).

"We've got a good one, we just have to get it on the ice," Maurice said.

But Wellwood realizes he can't go freelancing against the Sens 5-on-5, not when the Leafs have found some success with a conservative road game.

"We're a team built around getting it deep, that's the key for the new guys and especially me," Wellwood said.

Bell spent the past two weeks of his NHL-imposed 15-game suspension completing re-hab on his old knee injury. He says working side by side with Wellwood gives them some chemistry.

A big winner in all this could be Pohl, whose fourth- line partners have included Wade Belak, Simon Gamache and Bates Battaglia, all one-dimensional players.

"You never know what will happen until the game starts, but this is a great opportunity for me to play with these two guys," Pohl said. "All three of us have played centre before, so we know what to do with the puck."

Based on yesterday's practice, the arrival of Wellwood and Bell likely will move Belak and Gamache to the pressbox to join Battaglia. But with winger Darcy Tucker and defencemen Bryan McCabe and Carlo Colaiacovo still hurt, the Leafs are not over the 23-man roster and don't need a demotion.


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