It was a good news, bad news day for Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson.
The good news was, there were far fewer media types at practice yesterday because of the Raptors and Buffalo Bills games downtown.
Actually, the good news was that steady defenceman Mike Van Ryn is set to return to action when the Leafs travel to Buffalo to meet the Sabres on Friday night. Van Ryn suffered a broken left hand, a concussion, a broken nose and had a number of teeth knocked out when he was face-planted into the boards by Montreal forward Tom Kostopoulos on Nov. 8. The Leafs have gone 3-9 with Van Ryn out of the lineup.
The last vestige of that incident, the broken hand, is all but healed.
On top of that, defenceman Jonas Frogren, who has missed the past few weeks with an elbow injury, could return next week.
The return of Van Ryn and Frogren comes as a huge relief for Wilson, who lost rookie defenceman Luke Schenn for at least two weeks with a suspected knee injury after he was hit by Washington Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin in Toronto's 2-1 loss on Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre. Schenn was scheduled to undergo an MRI late yesterday.
As well, forward Niklas Hagman suffered a slight concussion in Saturday's game and will be lost for tonight's match at the ACC against the visiting New York Islanders. Schenn's loss will be felt.
"He has arguably been our best defensive defenceman, and (Saturday) night he was playing off Ovechkin and Ovechkin had no scoring chances until Luke got hurt," Wilson said yesterday following practice at Lakeshore Lions Arena. "Then Ovechkin had five scoring chances after Luke was out. So Luke was doing the job on him, (and) now we're going to have some other guys to step up their game in order to cover while Luke's out."
With Schenn and Hagman out, the Leafs yesterday called up winger Jeremy Williams and defenceman Jaime Sifers from the AHL Toronto Marlies. Both likely will play tonight.
Van Ryn and Frogren stayed late at practice yesterday to work on their conditioning and shots.
"It seems to be healing fine," Van Ryn said of the hand. "I don't think it's anything to worry about."
Wilson gave most of his veterans the day off from practice yesterday. The club returned from a three-game Western Conference swing on Friday, where it went 1-2, and then hosted the Capitals on Saturday and Wilson said the players are feeling the fatigue.
"Everything can become a blur, but (we're tired) physically more than anything," he said. "We have to play a hard, fast style, and when we don't, we're not effective, and you've seen what can happen to us when we get a little run down, which we have been in the last couple of games."
The Leafs have lost three in a row and nine of their past 12. Wilson plans to give his troops a couple of days off this week (tomorrow and Saturday), when they have a rare day off from playing.
"There's a lot on everybody's plate at this time of the year and you don't want to overwhelm your team," he said. "A couple of days off with quality practices after the day off will be good for us."
Wilson said his team has to go back to throwing more shots at the net, which it has gotten away from the past few games. Against the Capitals, the Leafs were outshot 30-20.
"You saw (Saturday) night. There was just a lot of trying to make a better play ... you're thinking, 'Well, if I shoot from here, I'm not going to score.' We're not really worried about scoring on the original shot. It's about confusing the defence and looking for rebounds," he said.