|Jean-Sebastien Giguere will be returning to the Maple Leafs lineup on Wednesday. (Dave Thomas/QMI AGENCY)
This will be one occasion when Ron Wilson does let sentiment get in the way of his lineup plans.
The Maple Leafs coach will let veteran goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere’s play at home Thursday against the Anaheim Ducks, the team that traded him to Toronto almost a year ago. That will mean Jonas Gustavsson starts Wednesday in New York against the Rangers, his first game since the team’s near meltdown against the St. Louis Blues on Jan. 6.
“That (Anaheim game) is something I’ve looked forward to all year,” Giguere said Monday at the MasterCard Centre.
Giguere earned every right to play in New York on Wednesday after making 32 stops in a 2-1 shootout loss to Calgary on Saturday, returning after a month off from a lingering groin injury. But Wilson will wait a day, even though Giguere said earlier he has never directly asked any of his NHL coaches for a specific start if it affected the goalie rotation or the general team game plan.
Wilson was agreeable to the switch.
“It’s a big game for him and I certainly understand those (Anaheim) sentiments,” Wilson said, adding that Gutavsson would probably like another head-to-head against Swedish Olympic teammate Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers.
Giguere was likely to sit one game this week anyway with Toronto playing three in four nights, capped by a home date against Washington on Saturday. Giguere said it likely will take him until the all-star break later this month to feel 100% physically and mentally comfortable testing the groin. But he insisted he wanted no sympathy.
“I’m paid a lot of money ($6 million US a year) to take care of my body and come in and do the treatment I have to do. If you hear me complaining, slap me in the face.
“It’s something I will have to keep an eye on, no doubt about it. I will have to be really smart and make sure I don’t tax my body too much, especially in the first little while. Right now, I know I’m good. Hopefully by the break (six days off starting Jan. 26), I’ll have enough strength and confidence in my leg that it won’t be that much of an issue.”
Wilson didn’t see much wrong with Giguere on Saturday and the goalie reported no pain from doing the full splits on a shot fired just wide by Calgary sniper Jarome Iginla early in the game .
“That was a good confidence builder,” Giguere said of the play. “The more that happens, the better I’ll feel,”
The coach couldn’t be blamed for being overly cautious with Giguere as this was the second instance of a groin injury to his starter after it was thought the problem was under control. At least Giguere has been more up front than Vesa Toskala, who tried a hide a knee injury to stay in the lineup.
“I will have some natural reservations when he plays,” Wilson said of Giguere’s workload this week. “But we just keep on monitoring. It’s his job and the trainers to work hard off the ice and make sure he doesn’t have any issues.”
Also coming back into the Leafs’ lineup Wednesday is winger Kris Versteeg, who sat the past two games with an upper-body injury. That will reunite Versteeg, Colby Armstrong and Darryl Boyce. Call-up Marcel Mueller likely will stay and replace Brett Lebda on the fourth line, at least until Fredrik Sjostrom (charley horse) comes back later in the week or until Saturday when Mike Brown’s three-game NHL suspension will be up.
Versteeg was a big loss after he had begun to find a productive comfort zone. He’s now tied for fourth in team scoring with Phil Kessel at 31 points. The Leafs lost both games he missed after ringing up a four-game winning streak.
“You really want to get back and help,” Versteeg said. “It’s important (to be 100%). You don’t want to put your team out on a limb and play just one or two shifts.” Versteeg’s transition to the Leafs has been difficult at times, not the least of reasons being he went from being a Stanley Cup champion to a team that’s in tough to make the playoffs. At the same time, he’s getting more ice than with Chicago.
“I’m coming off a short summer, though you don’t want to make too many excuses,” Versteeg said. “In about the last 30 games, it has been pretty close (to a point a game). I’ve learned how to play those minutes and it’s a good chemistry going on with (linemate) Colby Armstrong. Hopefully, I get back out there and we just pick up where we left off.”