Light workload for top Leafs
ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency
|Carl Gunnarsson is one of the Leafs defenceman who will be fighting for his job at camp (DAVE THOMAS/QMI Agency)
TORONTO - Got tickets for those Monday and Tuesday Leafs’ pre-season games at the Air Canada Centre?
Don’t expect to see a star-studded lineup from the home team.
With 70 players in camp, coach Ron Wilson isn’t about to overwork his top players, especially early in camp.
And with the pre-season schedule crammed with five games in six nights starting Monday, Wilson will get as many players in action as makes sense early on.
To that end, the coach said that his top two forward lines will play just one of the first three games to be played on successive nights starting Monday.
As for the overall workload, Wilson said, “four or five games would be ideal” for his top group and there may be an emphasis on that action being after the roster is reduced by the middle of next week.
It only takes a cursory study of the roster to recognize that Wilson’s toughest decision may be on what top six defencemen dress on opening night. “The depth is unbelievable and that’s good ... for the organization,” said Carl Gunnarsson, one of the men figuring to be in a fight to stick with the team. “It’s going to be tough.” Barring injury or the emergence of another player, two of Gunnarsson, Cody Franson and Mike Komisarek will make the cut. ... “That’s going to be the toughest decision I have if everybody’s healthy,” Wilson said. “I’m going to be patient and not pre-judge. Whoever is playing best at that moment will play.” ... Sticking with the D-men, it’s tough to imagine long-forgotten Jeff Finger working his way into the picture, but the veteran had a strong effort Saturday ... Wilson said he will do plenty of juggling during the pre-season, but captain Dion Phaneuf was paired with his partner late last season, Keith Aulie and Luke Schenn looked good with newcomer John-Michael Liles.
If there was one thing that cane as a pleasant surprise to winger Colby Armstrong, it was that new linemates Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri have a physical side to their game. “They’re pretty gritty for speedy, skilled guys,” Armstrong said ... Speaking of speed, Wilson figures Kadri looked “half a step to a step quicker. What I saw today was better than anything that he brought to the table (last season.) ... Kadri on his new linemates: “We could be a lethal combination.” That said, Wilson re-iterated his stance that Kadri’s spot is one of the chief battle grounds in camp ... They may only be a year and a half apart in age, but Phil Kessel says he’s never played a game against his younger brother, Blake. He’s hoping that might change this week if both get into the lineup for one of two games against the Flyers. Blake Kessel, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound defenceman, was signed as a free agent by Philly earlier this week ... The home-and-home with the Flyers could have another Brotherly Love reunion if the Leafs’ Luke Schenn and the Flyers’ Brayden Schenn show up on the game sheet.
Leafs enforcer Colton Orr saw his first meaningful action since being KO’d by fellow heavyweight George Parros of Anaheim in January. Orr both delivered and took some hits and scored the winning goal in one of the three scrimmages with a slick backhand that beat goalie Mark Owuya. The play prompted this quip from his coach: “We’re going to get some goal-scoring from (Orr) it looks like,” Wilson said. “The knock to the head, that’s the old joke: If he doesn’t know who he is, tell him he’s Wayne Gretzky.”
SURFING THE NETS
Worried that the 20 pounds James Reimer shed during the off-season may compromise his efforts in his sophomore season? Goalie coach Francois Allaire isn’t. “He’s lost a bit, but I don’t think (it will affect him),” Allaire said. “All he has done is change a little bit of the chemistry of his body. There’s a little more muscle than body fat now. (Fitness) is all just a process for him as he progresses as a hockey player. He’s 23 and his conditioning will continue to improve” ... Allaire was obviously a keen observer of all the rookies in camp but didn’t get a chance to see Jussi Rynnas. The Finn skated on another rink, but was nursing an ankle injury.
At least four of the 70 invitees were not in action.
Mike Brown joined Rynnas as a player who eased into action as he is still nursing a groin injury. Brown skated lightly on one of the other four rinks. Rookies David Broll and Stuart Percy remain out of the lineup nursing injuries suffered in rookie camp ... Most impressive among the forwards may have been Joffrey Lupul, who is showing the benefits of having a full summer to get fit ... The players participated in two scrimmages and a practice each on opening day. “It’s good to get to the real thing,” captain Phaneuf said. “We’ve been scrimmaging for weeks, but it’s not the same. The pace isn’t the same and you can get into bad habits.” With no time for coaching in the scrimmage, practice time was used to re-in force team systems.