MONTREAL - The NHL has been cruel to many rookies on the Maple Leafs this year, with defenceman Carl Gunnarsson the latest victim.
A severe looking shoulder injury on Monday night - the club had not provided an update at game time here Tuesday night - makes him the fourth newcomer to be wounded this season after goalie Jonas Gustavsson (heart, groin), Viktor Stalberg (concussion) and Tyler Bozak (suspected swine flu).
“It’s a tough loss,” Gustavsson said of his Swedish countryman Gunnarsson. “In the games he played he did well. But I think we have other guys who can step in and do the job.”
The Leafs didn’t move to replace Gunnarsson with a call-up from the farm on this three-game trip, while general manager Brian Burke is indicating that he has a personal holiday roster/trade freeze that goes into effect around Dec. 9. That’s 10 days before the NHL’s actual date to stop all trades, demotions and waiver action until Dec. 28.
Jeff Finger was just cleared after a knee-charley horse issue cost him four games and suited up Tuesday night, moving past Garnet Exelby who remains in the press box.
One of the hardest things for rookies to get used to, especially Europeans and collegians such as Gustavsson, Gunnarsson and Stalberg, is the 82-game NHL schedule, especially when condensed in an Olympic year. Gustavsson started his fourth straight game Tuesday, matching his season high.
“I hope my young spirit gives me some energy (for a long run),” he said with a smile. “The games are tighter together here (as opposed to Sweden), but I’m just happy to get the chance to play.
“A game like this (in front of a boisterous Montreal-Toronto crowd) is going to be exciting. Everybody cares, fans care and it’s the same thing in our building. It’s a great building here and I’m looking forward to playing here (for the first time).”
Luke Schenn didn’t have many of those growing pains last year in his blueline position when he made the NHL all-rookie team.
“Obviously it will be a big adjustment (for Gustavsson) over here, but we’re confident and he looks comfortable,” Schenn said. “Hopefully, he continues his progress.
“I think the Western Hockey League prepares you very well, 72 games and all that travel. Obviously guys are bigger here and things are a little more intense, but playing there three years helped me...the never-ending bus rides.”
Gunnarsson, who was rode hard into the boards on Monday, had become a fixture on the blueline after he filled in well for veteran Mike Komisarek during the latter’s three-week hiatus with a quad muscle tear. The Canadiens, meanwhile, got some of their own injured players back last, such as Scott Gomez and Matt D’Agostini, to be followed shortly by Hal Gill and Andre Kostitsyn.
Vesa Toskala is almost past a groin injury that saw him go on short-term injured reserve. He should come off IR either Thursday in Columbus or Saturday in Boston, which would see Joey MacDonald sent back to the Marlies.
“I’m much better,” Toskala said. “It was a minor tweak. I just have to get it out of my head that I’m afraid to jump on that side. That will come with practice.”