As Bob Dylan might say: "The lines, they are a changin’".
Coming off Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to Atlanta that officially eliminated them from the playoff race, coach Ron Wilson re-shuffled his deck, re-uniting The Frat Pack, putting Phil Kessel with the Europeans and laying the groundwork for Brayden Irwin’s first NHL game on Thursday against Buffalo.
Wednesday’s workout at the Mastercard Centre was a sobering one for the Leafs, who didn’t expect to make the playoffs after winning one of their first 13 games, but were still disappointed to be out.
“We’re coming back with one goal and one goal only,” defenceman Dion Phaneuf said of 2010 training camp, “to make the playoffs.”
Phaneuf was asked about a Sports Illustrated NHL players poll that named him the league’s most over-rated player, though the vote was likely compiled when he was with Calgary, prior to joining the Leafs and taking a role in the team’s improvement.
“Everyone has their own opinion,” Phaneuf said. “It doesn’t bother me one bit.”
Irwin will centre Luca Caputi and John Mitchell in an all-GTA line, a few days after he signed out of the University of Vermont.
“Obviously there will be a bit of nerves,” the Toronto resident said of debuting at the Air Canada Centre. “But I’m going to work hard and keep it simple.”
The rest of the switches reflect Wilson’s concerns of a lag in play the past couple of games as Toronto completed an otherwise productive month of March with a record of 9-5-2.
College grad rookies Tyler Bozak, Christian Hanson and Viktor Stalberg had been together during camp and briefly with the AHL Marlies, but Wilson teamed them again on Tuesday for one period on a night when Stalberg had his second two-goal game as a Leaf.
“It was only one period, but I thought we had good chemistry and moved the puck well,” Hanson said.
Stalberg and Bozak bring the speed and creativity, Hanson the pick and shovel. Hanson has split time between centre and wing all season and returns to the right side.
“We have a little bit of everything,” Stalberg said. “We play relaxed out there and I think that helps your game out there. You’re not squeezing the stick.”
The fourth line at Wednesday’s practice was a mixed bag of Rickard Wallin, Fredrik Sjostrom, Jamie Lundmark and Wayne Primeau. Team penalty minute leader Colton Orr was granted his customary day off after a game, to recover.
Jean-Sebstien Giguere will be in goal.
It was one of the rougher workouts of the season, with Mikhail Grabovski shoving Tomas Kaberle after Kaberle accidentally pushed him into the boards on a 1-on-1. Primeau took a puck in the face on a tip and Sjostrom took a Dion Phaneuf blast in the mid-section.
In trying to fire a puck through the speaker’s hole in the penalty bench at the MasterCard Centre, Wilson destroyed the whole pane of glass.