Leafs plug player gaps

John Mitchell is coming back from a knee injury that sidelined him for 20 games. (QMI Agency/Dave...

John Mitchell is coming back from a knee injury that sidelined him for 20 games. (QMI Agency/Dave Abel)

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 2:43 PM ET

Mike Komisarek joined a couple of Maple Leafs teammates on the sideline yesterday, but the Toronto defenceman should play tomorrow night at home against the Florida Panthers.

"Just a maintenance day for him," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said after practice at the MasterCard Centre. "I'm expecting him to play."

Forwards Mikhail Grabovski (broken wrist) and Wayne Primeau (knee), of course, will not be playing any time soon. Grabovski is expected to miss up to six weeks, while Primeau could miss as many as four.

So the Leafs have no choice but to turn to a couple of centres whose contribution this season has been middling. John Mitchell will return to the lineup versus Florida after missing 20 games with a left knee injury, and Rickard Wallin, who has not scored a goal since the 2003-04 season with the Minnesota Wild, also will get plenty of minutes.

Mitchell, who was scheduled to return tomorrow even if there had been no injuries, skated between Alexei Ponikarovsky and Nik Hagman at practice, while Wallin centred Jason Blake and Lee Stempniak.

In 22 games before he was hurt on Nov. 23 against the New York Islanders, Mitchell averaged 16 minutes 16 seconds of ice time a game and had two goals and seven assists. With second-line duties, Mitchell will not have much time to get accustomed to his surroundings.

"You never want to see two centremen go down just before you come back," Mitchell said. "I'm going to do the best I can with the ice time I get. It might be a little difficult just because I probably don't have my top skating legs back yet."

Wallin, who has been a healthy scratch at times, acknowledged his return to the NHL has not gone as well as he figured. The 29-year-old spent the lockout in 2004-05 with Houston of the American Hockey League but played the next four years in Europe before Leafs general manager Brian Burke lured him back to the NHL in July.

"This is not the way I envisioned it to go," Wallin said. "I have had some chances. I have not given up, far from it. If I get that first one, it can kind of get me going because I know I can get a lot better offensively. I think I have been doing all right defensively, but I have to chip in at both ends of the ice if I want to be a regular."

Jonas Gustavsson will start in goal against the Panthers. It's the first of four games in five nights for the Leafs, who are in Philadelphia on Wednesday night to face the Flyers, visit the Buffalo Sabres on Friday and play host to Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.

Scoring, as it usually is, will be the Leafs' major priority. They return home after netting just two goals in losses in Edmonton and Calgary.

"We're one of those teams that every once in a while thinks we don't have to go to the ugly areas," Wilson said. "We will have four or five goals and everybody thinks it is because we beat people one-on-one and make fancy plays. We have to turn it ugly again."


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