Leafs add Marlie muscle

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:04 AM ET

The Maple Leafs have been talking a lot about team toughness lately. But now they're actually going to do something about it.

With forward Jason Blake out of action for tonight's game against the Ottawa Senators with a suspected concussion -- an injury suffered when Colby Armstrong of the Atlanta Thrashers hit him on Tuesday night -- the Leafs have decided to call up tough guy Andre Deveaux from the AHL Marlies.

Deveaux, 24, has six goals and eight points and 54 penalty minutes in 13 games with the Marlies this season. He just completed a four-game suspension for an attack on Manitoba defenceman Nolan Baumgartner, after kneeing Baumgartner in the head.

But Leafs general manager Cliff Fletcher said yesterday the ability to fight and hit aren't the only reasons the club is giving the 6-foot-4, 217-pound Deveaux his first taste of NHL action.

"He's been scoring goals and playing a very strong game offensively along the boards," Fletcher said from Phoenix. "Without a doubt he has the physical dimension to his play, a strong one. But to play at the NHL level you have to be able to play, too. And because he is off to such a good start, we feel he deserves the chance."

As for Blake, who was hammered by Armstrong (a hit the NHL is reviewing to see if Armstrong left his feet before making contact), Fletcher said he has a headache and is sore all over.

"We're not sure if it's a concussion. That's something you don't find out about right away," Fletcher said.

Team toughness was the talk at practice yesterday, after the Leafs were defeated 6-3 at home by Atlanta. To a man, the Leafs believe they've allowed themselves to be pushed around too much this season, especially by the Thrashers, even though forward Jamal Mayers fought Thrashers defenceman Garnet Exelby.

One way to improve team toughness is to answer every opposition hit with a hit of their own.

"When guys start running our guys -- you saw it (Tuesday), Blakey got hit, (Mikhail) Grabovski got hit and (Niklas) Hagman took a hit -- it's not necessarily going after the guys that hit them. It's getting a little back, getting their skilled guys," centre Matt Stajan said. "We've just got to start finishing our hits more and when the other team has their head down, make sure they pay."

Defenceman Ian White, who took on Ilya Kovalchuk in a heated grappling match, called it "embarrassing" the way the Leafs backed down from the more aggressive Thrashers, and said that has to change tonight against the Senators.

"You have to respond somehow, and that's the easiest way," White said. "Hitting is 100% legal, it's part of the game and you need it. The team builds off it. You lay a big hit and everyone gets excited and everyone else wants lay a hit and the other team starts hearing footsteps."

'COMPETE HARDER'

The Leafs have fallen to 7-9-5 after Tuesday's loss, and have dropped four in a row. Yesterday, head coach Ron Wilson attended the Marlies afternoon tilt at Ricoh Coliseum and Leafs practice was run by assistants Tim Hunter, Rob Zettler and Keith Acton.

"The message from Ron to the coaches this morning was that we want to compete harder in our end in certain areas and pay a little more attention to some of the details in our end," Hunter said. "I think the biggest word was compete. We didn't do that all over the ice (Tuesday night)."


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