TORONTO - When you’ve just come off a 1-2 western road swing and you are perilously close to falling out of the playoff picture, you’ll try anything to get your team going.
To shake up things a bit and help turn around their fortunes, the Maple Leafs are moving defenceman Brett Lebda up to left wing on the fourth line for their home game against Eastern Conference rival Atlanta on Monday night. Rookie Nazem Kadri will sit again for Toronto.
“Last year he played 18 games on left wing with the Red Wings,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said of Lebda. “We like his speed and if we need to use him on the backend, he’s also available for that. Maybe he’ll play a little bit on the point on the power play as well.”
Lebda, who the Leafs acquired in the off-season as insurance in the event of a Tomas Kaberle trade, has not had the kind of season expected of him. He has only dressed in 16 games and is minus-12 with just one assist. So, it is unlikely the move to forward will have any great impact, but it does send a message to the rest of the team not to get too complacent.
“He’s such a good skater and with playing left wing on the fourth line I can almost automatically say he is the third man high. It’s like playing the shift with three defenceman,” Wilson said.
Meanwhile, not only are the Leafs (12-16-4) going to have to find a way to score more often – they scored just three times in the final two games of the western swing and have only put 72 pucks in the net this season – they are going to have to find a way to take some of the sizzle out of Hotlanta.
The high-flying Thrashers (18-11-5) are coming off a 7-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night and are 11-2-2 in their past 15 games. Bolstered by some off-season acquisitions, including Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd from the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, the surprising Thrashers have scored 109 goals and sit a mere one point behind the Washington Capitals in the Southeast Division.
Toronto, on the other hand, is currently 10 points out of a playoff spot and will have to make the most of the next couple of weeks when it plays five of seven games at home or it will find that January is a much colder month than normal.
Jonas Gustavsson (4-9-2, 2.92 GAA) will, once again, get the start in net for Toronto while Leafs No. 1 netminder J-S Giguere recovers from a groin injury.
Leafs coach Ron Wilson on rookie forward Nazem Kadri: “He’s not going down (to the Marlies). I’m using the next four days for him to get stronger and faster, in better shape and a lot stronger than he’s shown in games.”
Leafs forward and Stanley Cup champion Kris Versteeg on facing former Chicago Blackhawks teammate Dustin Byfuglien, a 6-foot-5, 265-pound defenceman: “(Byfuglien) cracked a few jokes about keeping my head up coming over the blue line. I’m just worried about taking that guy wide.”