TORONTO - Perturbed Leafs head coach Ron Wilson snapped at a reporter who dared question why captain Dion Phaneuf was not on the ice for Toronto’s open-to-the-public optional skate on Saturday morning prior to the team’s contest against the Capitals.
About 10,000 fans showed up at the ACC to watch as the Leafs did final preparations for their night game.
The scribe wanted to know why the team would deny fans — many of them kids — the opportunity to watch the Leafs captain work out.
“I don’t even know how to answer that question,” an irritated Wilson snarled. “We’re trying to win hockey games right now, and it was optional.”
That’s all Wilson had to say on the subject, but the reporter had raised a valid point. Of all the morning skates to take off, why miss the one where thousands of fans have come out to get a glimpse of you in the flesh? It’s not like the players overexert themselves during the game-day skates and it’s an opportunity many fans rarely get.
Does Sjostrom fit?
Forward Fredrik Sjostrom missed his fifth consecutive game last night even though he has recovered from a leg injury that put him on the sidelines. And the Swedish penalty-kill expert just might find it difficult to make his way back into the lineup if Tyler Bozak and Colby Armstrong keep up their good work while down a man.
“Colby and Bozie really helped turn the game around by getting the job done on those two penalty kills,” Wilson said of the Leafs’ win over the Ducks. “They had six shots on goal to none for Anaheim (with the Leafs down 2-1 early in the second) and really turned the game around … (Sjostrom) is kind of ready to play, but we’ll give him another day or two … We’ve been able to kill penalties (without him), other guys have filled in. I’ve used Darryl Boyce recently and a little more of the responsibility has been going to Bozak and Armstrong and (Mikhail) Grabovski and (Nikolai) Kulemin and it’s working.”
Blue line blues
Heading into last night’s contest, Carl Gunnarsson led all Leafs defencemen with three goals. It’s a statistic that underlines the struggles the team has experienced on the blue line so far this season.
“I don’t think you’re going to see him getting many votes for the Norris Trophy,” coach Wilson quipped. “We’ve struggled to get shots through from the point this year. The other night (a 5-2 win over Anaheim on Thursday), a simple little wrist shot with some traffic in front of the net found it’s way in. So, hopefully everybody else on defence just keeps it simple and finds a way to hit the net.”
Gunnarsson, who has been a healthy scratch on 10 occasions this season, has been playing better of late and even scored the game-winner against San Jose on Jan. 11.