The Leafs have gone from feast to famine on defence over the course of the regular season and are getting ready to gorge again.
Head coach Ron Wilson said yesterday that both Mike Van Ryn and Jonas Frogren could be ready to play as early as tomorrow night in Buffalo against the Sabres, meaning the Blue and White will, once again, have an abundance of players on the blue line.
When Van Ryn and Frogren do return to action, the Leafs will be carrying eight healthy defencemen, with only rookie Luke Schenn still out. The Saskatoon native suffered a knee injury Saturday night in a 2-1 loss to the Washington Capitals.
Wilson said Van Ryn, who suffered a multitude of injuries on Nov.8 when creamed into the boards from behind by Montreal's Tom Kostopoulos, is closest to being ready. However, Frogren, who suffered an elbow injury two weeks ago, insists he is ready as well.
"But we're going to get (Frogren) another MRI and make sure he's not telling us something that he's covering up because he wants to get back in there," Wilson said. "The injury he has was supposed to be about a four-week injury and he is only looking at two weeks right now and he's telling everybody he's feeling fine. So we'll do an MRI and make sure's he is 100% before he gets back in there."
For his part, Van Ryn, arguably the club's best two-way defenceman before going down with injuries that included a concussion, a broken nose, shattered teeth and a broken left hand, said yesterday that the last vestige of the injury, the hand, is fine.
"That was the one I thought might have bothered me but I can't even feel it. I was shooting one-timers (in practice yesterday) and it feels fine," Van Ryn said. "I feel like I'm ready to play, but that will be up to them who they put in (tonight). I'll just prepare like I'm going play and see what happens."
Van Ryn is confident that, despite the brutality of the injury, he won't be apprehensive going into the corners when he returns.
"If you dwell on things in the past, it's tough to prepare for what's in front of you," he said. "I'm sure once the first shift is over, it will be fine."
Forward Niklas Hagman, who suffered a mild concussion Saturday, the same night Schenn suffered his knee injury after being hit by Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin, still was unable to practice yesterday and likely will not play tomorrow.
As for Schenn, who Wilson has called his best defensive defenceman this season, the rookie blue-liner confirmed he suffered an MCL sprain in his left knee and still is two to three weeks away from returning, although he has started doing some squats and riding the stationary bike.
TO WEAR BRACE
He also will have to wear a brace when he returns, the first time in his career he will have to do so. Schenn said he rarely missed a game in junior.
"This is all new to me," he said. "It's a little bit sore right now. I'm not sure how long I'm going to be out for, just hopefully not too, too long. But they really haven't set a date."
The Leafs will practice again today before heading off to Buffalo to play the Sabres. Wilson plans to give the players another day off Saturday as he will have two full days for practices before their next game Tuesday against the visiting New Jersey Devils.