It's Mitchell's moment to seize

Ron Wilson will insert fourth-line centre John Mitchell on the top line between Nik Antropov, the...

Ron Wilson will insert fourth-line centre John Mitchell on the top line between Nik Antropov, the club's leading scorer, and Alexei Ponikarovsky. (Veronica Henri, Toronto Sun)

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:54 AM ET

Against the surprisingly bad Ottawa Senators tonight, the surprisingly decent Maple Leafs will make one minor change from Thursday's stinker against the Buffalo Sabres.

Head coach Ron Wilson will insert fourth-line centre John Mitchell on the top line between Nik Antropov, the club's leading scorer, and Alexei Ponikarovsky. The top line's usual centre, Matt Stajan, still is out with an eye injury.

Wilson, who remained grouchy yesterday at practice following the 4-1 loss to the equally uninspired Sabres, is hoping that Mitchell will seize the moment.

Mitchell has been a consistent fixture on the fourth line this season, but gets a game or two to show the organization what he can do offensively, playing with the big Euros.

"He's got to be ready to go," Wilson said. "Don't test the water -- dive in the deep in and away you go, start paddling. And I think he understands that a little bit better."

Mitchell, who was a consistent scorer with the Marlies the previous two seasons, said he is ready for the challenge.

"It's an opportunity for me to hopefully show some of the skills that I have, and utilize those guys and try to use my speed to get them a little bit more room to handle the puck," the Oakville native said.

"I'm not a Sidney Crosby or someone that can just walk in and be given first line treatment. I spent three years in the minors, so obviously I had to work to get here and I'm going to have to work to climb up in the lines.

"It's not frustrating at all. It's just something you have to work on and gradually get better every game. Being on the fourth line, you have to do a fourth-line job. And when you're on the first line, you have to do a first-line job and that's get some offence and put pucks on the net."

Wilson, meanwhile, also is hoping for two things against the scuffling Senators: That his starting goaltender, Vesa Toskala, plays well from the opening faceoff and that some of the veteran players assert themselves.

"We need some of our veteran players to step up and try to take some ownership or leadership in the team," he said. "That might be the part that confuses me a little bit."

What confuses him is the fact that, against Buffalo, the best line was the mucker unit of Mitchell, Jamal Mayers and Ryan Hollweg.

To that end, he skated his players hard yesterday in a high-tempo, in-your-face workout.

"That's what we're going to have to do in (tonight's) game and the game against Florida (on Tuesday). I need a little bit more edge from everybody," Wilson said.

"(Against Ottawa), we have to get on them early. They've struggled and it's going to be up to us to apply some heat early. And if they feel a little good about themselves (after a 3-2 win at Edmonton on Tuesday), try to take that away from them early in the game by beating them to loose pucks and out-working them and getting a lot of shots on goal."

As for Toskala, who is expected to start tonight after resting the past two games, Wilson expects him to give his club a chance to win by not giving up weak goals when the game is still on the line.

"We need a spark from our goaltending, to say the least," he said.


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