Hoping for happy trails

Leafs coach Ron Wilson is hopeful that Matt Stajan will be able to play tonight. (Sun Media/Dave...

Leafs coach Ron Wilson is hopeful that Matt Stajan will be able to play tonight. (Sun Media/Dave Abel)

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

Early in the season, Matt Stajan's work ethic was a little sick, and Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson responded to that by bumping the fifth-year Toronto centre down to the grinder line and then again sat him out for an Oct. 13 game against the St. Louis Blues.

That no longer is the case. Stajan's game is healthy, but his body isn't.

"He needed an IV before the game to play (Saturday)," Wilson said of Stajan, who did not practise with the team yesterday. "So knowing that, he stayed home (yesterday). But we think he'll be okay for the trip."

The Leafs left for the west coast immediately following practice at Lakeshore Lions Arena yesterday for a game in Los Angeles tonight followed by a homecoming contest for Wilson in San Jose on tomorrow. The Leafs end the trip with a game in Phoenix on Thursday.

Wilson is hopeful that Stajan, who leads the club in scoring with 20 points (6-14) in 21 games, will be able to play tonight, but the Leafs aren't going to take any chances and yesterday called up defenceman Jamie Sifers from the Toronto Marlies.

Sifers, 26, is a career minor-leaguer, but has played well on the blue line for the AHL team.

"He brings speed and agility and mobility back there," Wilson said of the 5-foot-11, 210 pound defenceman. "I'm definitely going to try to get him in one game on this trip. We need an extra defenceman, just in case. For example, Stajan almost wasn't able to play (on Saturday) because he wasn't feeling well and the same thing could happen to one of our defencemen, and you have to protect yourself from that."

Wilson admitted that he is concerned about how his team holds up on the trip.

"This isn't an easy road trip by any stretch of the imagination," Wilson said. "We're going to have to try and save our energy right now, a couple of team dinners certainly will help.

"All you can do is drink a lot of fluids on the flight (yesterday) and try to catch up on as much sleep as you can," Wilson said. "You kind of, in this situation, play the games in a little bit of a fog. So we have to play well defensively. The Kings are playing great right now. The Sharks have won six in a row, the best team in the league, and Phoenix keeps on improving, so we're going to have a tough row to hoe."

The 9-9-3 Kings are 6-3-1 in their past 10 games.

Management is hoping the team will become a closer unit on the trip. The players planned on going for a team meal last night in L.A., while ex-GM Cliff Fletcher, who remains with the organization as a consultant after being replaced by Brian Burke on Saturday, is having the staff over for dinner at his Phoenix area home on Wednesday.

"You can't force it, it's a process," forward Jamal Mayers said of team bonding. "But we have a good group of people in here, good guys to be around, so we're going to try to have some fun."

Burke also will be on the trip, but didn't fly with the team yesterday. Wilson said his new boss will be a busy man in the next few weeks.

"He's going to sit down with me and get my perspective on where we are," Wilson said. "But he has got a pretty good idea. He has been watching our team for the past couple of weeks as he was talking his way through (the contract negotiations). (But) he still has to dig in and evaluate the whole organization, not just the players we have. He has to figure out what we have in the minors and address those needs, go through what we're going to have for draft picks."


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