|Luke Schenn pauses during Leafs practice Monday in Toronto before jetting to Edmonton to face the Oilers. (QMI Agency/Alex Urosevic)
TORONTO - For a few minutes on Monday, it looked like an errant puck was going to make Ron Wilson’s decision with his crowded defence a lot easier.
Luke Schenn was struck in an unpadded area of his knee just a few minutes before the Maple Leafs were to exit the ice at The MasterCard Centre and get on a flight for their three-game Western Canadian road trip. Schenn departed the ice, but the ice-bag treatment did the trick and he joined seven other blueliners for the airport.
The numbers have risen since Dion Phaneuf came back from a leg injury, while Keith Aulie earned a longer look. Now Mike Komisarek has overcome a hand injury that caused him to miss the past two games.
This is what coach Wilson and general manager Brian Burke envisioned in training camp, an intense battle for the six starting jobs. Tomas Kaberle is contributing points, Francois Beauchemin led the team in hits and blocks in Saturday’s win over Montreal and Carl Gunnarsson came off a one-game benching to play well. But Komisarek’s troubles prior to getting hurt would seem to make him a candidate to sit as well, with Gunnarsson, Aulie and Brett Lebda also on the bubble.
“You have to earn your ice time,” Wilson warned. “If you have a bad period, you might find yourself with reduced ice time. I prefer to have it that way.
“(Having the attitude) ‘I’m going to play no matter what’, is not the way a coach wants to operate. Player are applying pressure to each other now and that’s good for the whole team.”
While Wilson joked that captain Phaneuf is likely to hear a lot of booing on this road trip, especially when the Leafs pull into Calgary on Thursday, Komisarek hopes to steady his game while away from what’s becoming a home-ice pressure cooker.
“We’ve given the fans ammunition to get on us,” Komisarek said. “If we play with our best foot forward, execute better and have intensity, they’ll get behind us, the same way they let us know when things aren’t going well.”
“We have had some great games at home this year and it’s always a great feeling saluting them (at centre ice) after we win.”
The trip starts Tuesday night in Edmonton, moves through Calgary and ends Saturday in Vancouver. The Oilers pounded the Leafs 5-0 a couple of weeks ago, part of a surge for that team.
“We definitely owe those guys,” Komisarek said.
The Leafs will be carrying nine Western Canadian-born players on the trip.