Leafs search for injury bailout

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:39 PM ET

The Maple Leafs are searching for help around the NHL neighbourhood, but will look in-house to fix the latest storm damage.

Vesa Toskala, who might have been on track to win back his No. 1 goaltending job, is on injured reserve with a groin problem, but it’s not as serious as the knee injury that has shelved third-line centre John Mitchell.

Coach Ron Wilson said Mitchell will be gone up to six weeks and Tuesday summoned winger Christian Hanson from the Marlies, where he was lighting up the AHL. Hanson, along with goalie Joey MacDonald who will back-up Jonas Gustavsson Wednesday night, joined the Leafs on the flight to Tampa Tuesday for the first of two games in Florida this week.

Though Hanson is not a centre, such are the Leafs’ recent scoring woes that a finisher badly is required at the moment.

When Toronto fired 61 pucks at the Islanders’ Dwayne Roloson on Monday and 39 the game before against Washington, yet produced only four regulation goals, patience began to snap with forwards such as Jason Blake (two goals), Nikolai Kulemin (three), Mikhail Grabovski (four) and Lee Stempniak and Matt Stajan (five each). On the other hand, new winger Phil Kessel has six goals in just 10 games.

“When a team isn’t scoring, critics will say there’s not enough (talent),” Stajan said. “When we score, that turns around. I’ve been with these guys all year and we have a lot of guys who can shoot the puck and score.

“We’ve played well for the most part, lately in large parts of games. But sometimes it’s running into a hot goalie, or not getting a bounce off the shin pad. That’s hockey. We have to do a better job on things we can control, such as special teams.”

Hanson, 23, ranks first on the Marlies in scoring and second among all AHL rookies with 18 points with eight goals and 10 assists in 18 games. Last season he played in five games for the Leafs and had one goal and an assist. His ‘Frat Pack’ winger, Viktor Stalberg, made the most impact in training camp before being sent back and centre Tyler Bozak also was on the short list to be called up.

General manager Brian Burke had two deals cooking with the Chicago Blackhawks on the weekend, but they were believed to focus on defenceman Brent Sopel and both were dead by Sunday. Burke has found the trading market to be a difficult one with the Leafs so obviously in need, but first and foremost, he’s trying to recover the first and second round draft picks sacrificed in the Kessel deal.

His next move was going to replace a one-way Leaf contract with a deserving kid from the Marlies, but until the Mitchell injury in Monday’s match dictated a change, the team’s improved play and four points the past three games made him back off.

“We’ve been playing well, if you’ve watched us,” Kessel said. “It’s not like we’re getting blown out. I think we’re close. We just haven’t strung together the wins.”


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