Beware of doghouse

Nikolai Kulemin endures one of the not-so-glamorous duties of the NHL rookie -- retrieving the...

Nikolai Kulemin endures one of the not-so-glamorous duties of the NHL rookie -- retrieving the pucks after practice. At least the young Leafs winger has yet to find his way through the revolving door to coach Ron Wilson's doghouse. (Michael Peake, Sun Media)

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 4:15 AM ET

If Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson started collecting rent on his doghouse, he'd be richer than Sam Mitchell's tailor.

Two days ago, it was veteran winger Jason Blake who was cast into Wilson's canine purgatory. Before that, it was veteran centre Matt Stajan.

The newest tenant appears to be young forward Jiri Tlusty, who was slapped on to the fourth line at practice yesterday, along with John Mitchell, Ryan Hollweg and Jamal Mayers. Which means that Tlusty, who has zero points in his seven games and is a minus-2, likely will sit tonight against the Ottawa Senators at the Air Canada Centre.

Nothing is cast in stone, but Wilson usually sits the forward he has bumped down to the fourth line at practice. For his part, Blake was slotted to Tlusty's usual spot yesterday, alongside Alex Steen and Dominic Moore.

Another decision Wilson will make today is whether to play defenceman Jeff Finger for the first time this season. It's almost certain he will, meaning that now three healthy defencemen will have to be banished to the press box for the Ottawa game. Ian White, who hasn't yet had a sniff of regular-season action, will be one of them. Same, probably, for Carlo Colaiacovo, who has sat out the past three games.

ODD MAN OUT?

The third probably will be Anton Stralman, despite the fact the 22-year-old scored in Toronto's 4-2 win in Boston on Thursday night.

In any case, the coach is trapped between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, he acknowledges that having nine healthy defenceman is a "good" problem. On the other hand, he realizes a few egos are being dented.

"I've got a lot of guys, coming to me (asking): 'Why aren't I in? What do I have to do (to get in)?' " Wilson said. "But when we win a game and we play really well defensively, it's hard to crack the lineup.

"My message is to just make sure you're ready," he said. "You don't get down, you stay ready. If you get down and you get an opportunity (to play) and you're pouting, you're only going to let yourself down when you jump in there."

When asked if that was the message he would send to Colaiacovo, Wilson replied: "That's who we were just talking about. I've talked to Carlo and he just has to keep on working and be ready."

Wilson has been largely complimentary toward his defence in the seven games Toronto has played, but clearly was pleased to have Finger back. The third-year NHL defenceman was one of Toronto's key free-agent signing this summer but hasn't played in the regular season yet because of a foot injury.

"He's an accomplished defensive defenceman and can play a little bit of the point on the power play," Wilson said. "And if he can play anywhere near the way he played last year in Colorado, he'll make us even better defensively."

Finger said he can't wait to finally get in the lineup, although he is aware that he will be taking a spot away from someone else.

"It's the business," he said. "That's the way it goes, everybody knows that."

Defenceman Mike Van Ryn, who also scored against Boston and has been a healthy scratch once this season, agrees with Finger.

"I think you guys (the media) are more concerned about it than we are," Van Ryn said of Wilson's rotation of healthy scratches. "They're going to play whomever they feel should be playing, plus we've got young guys they have to develop."


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