Hungry Leafs head to Wingtown

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:46 PM ET

TORONTO -- The Maple Leafs will be taking the Chicken Wing Express (the team bus) to Buffalo for a game Friday against the Sabres, armed with a couple of hungry players anxious for some action.

The club called up forward Viktor Stalberg from the Toronto Marlies yesterday and plans to dress second-year defenceman Luke Schenn, who has been a healthy scratch the past three games.

Also making the trip, and backing up Vesa Toskala, will be rookie goaltender Jonas Gustavsson, who has not played since Dec. 1. He underwent a second heart ablation two weeks ago. Veteran backup Joey MacDonald has been sent back to the Marlies. Gustavsson may start Saturday night back at the Air Canada Centre against the Boston Bruins.

Coach Ron Wilson would not say who will sit against the Sabres, but it’s a good bet that defenceman Jeff Finger will get a ticket to the press box, after being a minus three in Toronto’s 6-3 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes on Wednesday night and hardly playing in the third period.

The Leafs have lost seven in a row against the Sabres, who are coming off a 2-0 loss Wednesday to Ottawa. Given Toronto’s busy schedule as of late, Wilson said it’s important to get in some speed against the Sabres and hot goaltender Ryan Miller, who is 19-7-2 with a goals-against average of 1.88 and save percentage of .937%.

“We want to have options,” Wilson said of the lineup changes. “Our team’s a little bit tired.”

Enter Stalberg, who has led the Marlies in scoring with eight goals and 13 assists in 19 games after being sent down late in October. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Stalberg had an impressive training camp but fizzled in eight games with the Leafs to start the season.

“His play’s improved, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement,” Wilson said of Stalberg. “But of all the people down there, he has by far the most NHL skill in terms of his speed, his shot and his size. He’s just got to put it all together up here like he did in training camp.”

As for Schenn, the 20-year-old has struggled this season and Wilson said yesterday it’s a matter of the strapping defenceman being mentally ready to play every night.

“He debates that, but I don’t know how you can make some of the mistakes (he has made) and say you’re mentally prepared. He hasn’t been,” said Wilson. “Watching three games (from the press box) should reset his computer and hopefully he’ll be a lot more aware in a lot of situations.

“I would hope he has a fire lit under his rear end,” Wilson added. “But we’ll spot him until we feel comfortable that he’s ready to play. I expect him to have a good game, to be more aggressive than he has been and getting his feet moving right off that bat.”

The key to beating the 20-10-2 Sabres, of course, is to beat Miller, whom Wilson will coach on Team USA at the Vancouver Olympics in February.

“I’d be facetious and say ‘run the goalie’, but I might need him later,” said Wilson, with a laugh. “He’s pretty much made the Olympic team, so I don’t think he has to audition for the job. So he can just settle down and be subpar and less than average (tonight). Then we would have a chance.”

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca


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