As the calendar has turned to the harsh days of January, a cold reality settled into the Maple Leafs dressing room.
Thanks to injuries and a general problem when it comes to putting the puck in the net, the Leafs, losers of five of their past six, are hoping for an offensive spark from a couple of guys who have not provided one this season, though for different reasons.
John Mitchell will centre the second line Tuesday against the Florida Panthers after missing 20 games with a knee injury, while Rickard Wallin will take Wayne Primeau’s spot on a line with Jason Blake and Lee Stempniak.
Wallin hopes he can finally score his first goal for Toronto after going 30 games without one.
Mitchell will fill in for Mikhail Grabovski, who is out for up to six weeks with a broken wrist. A knee injury will keep Primeau in civilian clothes for up to four weeks.
“(Wallin) has to view it as an opportunity to show us what he can do,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. “John steps in for Grabo, and it’s the same thing. From Mitchy’s point of view, he was supposed to be coming in for this game, and now he gets an opportunity to jump in.
“Maybe it will be a little bit too much, because we don’t have the luxury of allowing him to work his way in. He has to jump in with both feet.”
Wilson said there were no plans to recall a forward from the Toronto Marlies.
Defenceman Mike Komisarek was not on the ice because of what Wilson called a “maintenance day” but it was nothing that should keep Komisarek out Tuesday.
Jonas Gustavsson will start in goal.
Leafs general manager Brian Burke showed plenty of faith in Wallin when he signed the 29-year-old Swede last July, and Wallin knows it’s time for him to show his gratitude. Wallin had not played in the NHL since the 2003-04 season with Minnesota.
“This is not the way I envisioned it to go,” said Wallin, at times a healthy scratch. “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. 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.”
Made his points
Mitchell had two goals and seven assists before he got hurt. Grabovski is a soft player who has many detractors, but he did provide 25 points in 42 games and that will be missed.
Mitchell, who will centre Nik Hagman and Alexei Ponikarovsky, will not have much time to get accustomed to his surroundings. He has not played since Nov. 23 when he was hurt against the New York Islanders.
“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.”