Leafs limp out of pre-season

Maple Leafs James Reimer lets in a goal by Buffalo Sabres Corey Tropp during their game in Toronto...

Maple Leafs James Reimer lets in a goal by Buffalo Sabres Corey Tropp during their game in Toronto on September 23, 2011. (Stan Behal/QMI Agency)

Terry Koshan, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:07 AM ET

TORONTO - As pre-seasons go, that couldn’t have been what the Maple Leafs brass envisioned.

Sure, the Leafs won four of their eight exhibition games, but that’s not the point.

The most important fact for the Leafs now that the pre-season is over is that no one else can get hurt.

Already without centres Tim Connolly and Tyler Bozak, who played in just two games each, the Leafs lost Mikhail Grabovski in their exhibition finale against the Detroit Red Wings after the centre on the club’s top line took a shot off the instep of his foot.

But after a 4-2 loss to the Wings before a crowd of 19,027 at the Air Canada Centre, coach Ron Wilson revealed that X-rays were negative and Grabovski suffered only a bruise.

By now, Wilson had hoped that there would be some signs of chemistry among his forward lines, but that did not transpire in the past couple of weeks.

“Unfortunately, it has been weird because the plan was to keep some lines together and it did not work out because of minor injuries,” Wilson said. “We have to move some things around, so practice this week is going to be important. I think we have identified what we believe are the lines, and now we have to sit down and discuss it. And we have to really sit down and give hard thought to what the defence will start at.”

Wilson said he is hopeful that Connolly, who is day to day with an upper-body injury, and Bozak, who is banged up, will be ready for the regular-season opener on Thursday at home against the Montreal Canadiens.

Wilson knows he will be without Clarke MacArthur, who has been suspended for the first two games, until Oct. 15. Matt Frattin took MacArthur’s spot on the top line with Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin before Grabovski was hurt, and probably will stay there until MacArthur returns.

No final cuts will be made until Monday at the earliest.

We don’t know if Connolly, who has a history of injuries, will be able to do much with Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul once the season gets going. The kinks that could have been worked out, at least to an extent, will still be there when the real fun begins.

Matthew Lombardi made his return to the NHL after missing every game since the middle of last October, when he was a Nashville Predator, with a concussion. Lombardi didn’t look out of place, and there’s a smart bent to his game, something he demonstrated against the Wings. He’s a player who is aware, and a year away did not diminish that.

“It was nice to get that off my shoulders,” Lombardi said. “I did not feel amazing, but it’s going to get better. Not the jump I wish I would have had, but that is going to come. I’m confident it is going to get there.”

The question is, will Lombardi be asked to do a lot more on Thursday and in the following games than what was initially thought? If Bozak and Connolly can’t go, the Leafs also could start with a couple of centres, Darryl Boyce and Philippe Dupuis, who are on two-way contracts. Mike Zigomanis, another player on a two-way pact, played in both games against the Red Wings on the weekend and served himself well.

As Wilson had no choice but to continue juggling his lines, some of the polish started to come off young defenceman Jake Gardiner, who had a difficult time on two of the Wings’ goals.

On the opening goal, by Justin Abdelkader in the first period, Gardiner failed to detect the Wings forward going to the Leafs net. Gardiner’s head is going to have to be on a swivel, but he did not appear to have an idea that Abdelkader was nearby.

Gardiner failed to take Patrick Eaves, who scored the Wings’ third goal on a power play, out of harm’s way.

“Jake was a little off, but I think he has had a lot put on his plate,” Wilson said. “I think he is ready to play, but we will discuss it.”

John-Michael Liles and Joey Crabb scored for the Leafs. Zigomanis won 19 of 22 faceoffs.

Mike Komisarek left briefly in the third period after he took the skate of a Wings player in the mouth area.


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