Bozak back on top — at least briefly

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:56 AM ET

TORONTO - For a couple of hours on Thursday it was turn-back-the-clock time at the MasterCard Centre.

There was Tyler Bozak, yucking it up with Phil Kessel in the same blue sweaters, joined by Joffrey Lupul. The line that had come under fire last year, at least the Bozak-Kessel component, was back together.

But it’s expected to be a very short reunion, maybe one game this weekend at most, as Tim Connolly recovers from an upper-body injury. Connolly should be ready for opening night on Oct. 6 against Montreal. The important thing was that Bozak has moved on from any disappointment he might have had when the team paid $9.5 million US to have Connolly be Kessel’s set-up man.

Bozak insists he’s content in his new role as third-line centre with Colby Armstrong on the right side and either Nazem Kadri or Matt Frattin.

“I wouldn’t call it (deflating),” Bozak said of absorbing the news he was off the top unit during the summer. “It’s the National Hockey League, our team needed help and we got a great player in Tim. If a guy like him comes in and plays ahead of me, it’s not an ego-deflator as all. He’s a great player and he’ll help me grow. It was fun being back there today.”

Bozak is just getting through an injury himself and isn’t expected to be ready for the first of two exhibition games against the Red Wings on Friday. Connolly was skating by himself again Thursday, three days after a nasty knock into the MCC boards.

“It was a one-on-one drill, I was trying to go around the defenceman, driving hard to the net,” Connolly recalled. “I’m not sure if it was a goalie’s stick or a defenceman’s, but I tripped and flew directly into the boards going full speed. It was unlucky, but could have been a lot worse.”

Connolly has had some long-term injuries that clouded his career with the Buffalo Sabres and the uncertainty of his worth helped lead him across the border as a free agent. But he insists the latest injury is nothing serious.

“We still have about a week or so (until the season opener Oct. 6 against Montreal),” Connolly said. “I’m going to use these days (productively). The No. 1 goal is the first game, continue to skate and keep my fitness up. I’m skating by myself and then hitting the weight room. As quick as you get your conditioning, you can lose it.”

Bozak stepped right into his old job with ease.

“There wasn’t anything new out there between us,” he assured. “We’re used to each other. We have great wingers on all lines here and it makes it easier for a centreman, no matter where you play.”

Anticipating a third-line role would be more a test of his bulk, Bozak concentrated on the strength conditioning during the summer.

“He’s a little more prepared, physically,” coach Ron Wilson said. “His focus is where it should be. This (line change) is just temporary, but I think he’s capable of playing on that (old) line, the way he’s played in a couple of games.”

Bozak looks forward to a productive special teams’ role, such as killing penalties with Armstrong.

“We can read off each other already,” Bozak said. “Me and Army played a lot there last year. Penalty killing for us is not just to sit back and try and prevent goals, but we’ll be on the attack, too. That’s something I’ve always enjoyed, reading the pass and intercepting it. Army’s a great guy for that.

“Hopefully, all of our guys get back here for regular season when it matters.”


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