Status quo for Leafs

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:47 AM ET

Whatcha see is whatcha get as far as changes in the Maple Leafs lineup.

The only way they can switch around some bodies to prop up their playoff hopes or audition Marlies for next year is have their injured players fast-track their returns, or be forced into emergency AHL recalls, now that the trade deadline and roster freeze have set in.

Interim general manager Cliff Fletcher's had alluded to buyouts and demotions as a drastic way of retooling the roster, but none of that can happen until the summer.

For now, with a tiny window for eighth spot still there, coach Paul Maurice will keep using three forward lines of veterans, while rookies Jiri Tlusty, Kris Newbury and Jeremy Williams are on a seldom-used fourth unit, playing between five and 10 minutes a game.

"Tlusty has had chances to play with Mats Sundin and Nik Antropov, as well as on the third and fourth line and we expect he'll do nothing but get better," Fletcher said yesterday. "He's just 19 years old and doing fine. Williams has an NHL-calibre shot on goal and Newbury gives us a (tough) presence out there every shift.

"Next year, I think they'll all be right in there fighting for jobs at camp. It will be interesting to see how (the whole team) responds this week. We have to win two against Philadelphia, otherwise it's a daunting task to make the playoffs.

"The good news is, we open at home (tomorrow) and if we win that, we have a chance."

Meanwhile, three Leafs forwards are trying to come back from long-term injuries to make an impression on Fletcher during the final 12 regular-season games. Winger Mark Bell (broken orbital bone) and Boyd Devereaux (knee) are under contract next year, but centre John Pohl (ankle sprain) hopes to get back before his deal runs out.

Bell and Pohl are expected to be out until the end of the month at least.

Rookie defenceman Anton Stralman continues top see quality ice time and though he now has gone 10 games without a point, he hasn't been the own-zone liability of some older men at his position.


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