Leafs, Lombardi taking it slow

Leafs coach Ron Wilson said he's going to continue to ease Matthew Lombardi, who is coming back...

Leafs coach Ron Wilson said he's going to continue to ease Matthew Lombardi, who is coming back from a serious concussion, into a full NHL workload. (ALEX UROSEVIC/Toronto Sun)

DAVE HILSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:11 AM ET

TORONTO - Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson told reporters after Toronto’s pre-game skate on Saturday morning that he wants to take things slowly with newcomer Matthew Lombardi, despite the speedy centre’s strong opening-night performance against the Montreal Canadiens.

Lombardi recorded a shorthanded goal in just over 11 minutes of ice time against the Canadiens, but Wilson said he was planning to keep Lombardi on the fourth line, at least for the time being.

“The whole process for him is just to shake off all the rust and regain his confidence in traffic,” Wilson said of Lombardi, who missed 80 games last season because of a concussion sustained while playing for the Nashville Predators. “You know, he really didn’t do anything for eight or nine months, no physical activity at all. Up until two weeks ago he was still 10 pounds under his playing weight. The process is to get him back to his old playing weight — about 195, I think — and build up his stamina and his strength and his confidence on the ice, and catch up to the speed of the game which you can lose in a year of inactivity.”

If he stays healthy, Lombardi could turn out to be the steal of the summer for the Leafs, who picked him up as an afterthought in a deal that brought 6-foot-5 defenceman Cody Franson over from the Predators.

“I can see Matthew playing either as a third-line centre or third-line left winger at some point, that’s kind of where we envision him,” Wilson added. ”But if other things don’t work out, he could be playing on any line, we’ll just wait and see.”

TWO THUMBS UP

There’s nothing like getting the approval of your coach, even if you’re a veteran player. But it’s that much sweeter when you are a rookie playing in your very first NHL game.

Wilson said he liked what he saw of Jake Gardiner against the Canadiens. The 21-year-old defenceman impressed the Leafs so much in camp that he worked his way onto the roster.

“The process with Jake is, we going to start him slowly. The other night was a tough game, the way Montreal can skate, but I thought he handle the speed and the tempo of the game really well and he got better as the game went on. In the first period, everybody didn’t play very well, after that the thing we noticed most was how aware he was defensively,” Wilson said.

Gardiner logged 13:37 of ice time Thursday while playing alongside Mike Komisarek.

While not quite his debut after having playing one NHL game last season, Wilson also liked what he saw of winger Matt Frattin, who made the team after Nazem Kadri sustained an injury in the pre-season.

“Their line was struggling to get creative scoring-chance wise, but Matt did a great job. Good sticks, finishing checks, making smart plays, getting pucks deep, getting pucks out when we needed it. I was really impressed with his game,” Wilson said.

Frattin had a couple of shots on goal in 16:17 of ice time while playing on the second line alongside two of the Leafs’ most effective players last season, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin.

LOOSE LEAFS

Just because there was a love song being pumped into the Toronto dressing room after the morning skate doesn’t mean the Leafs have suddenly turned into a bunch of softies. “(The CD player) is just on shuffle. Whatever comes on comes on,” a bemused captain, Dion Phaneuf, said … Wilson said he expects to see injured centre Tim Connolly (upper body) play next Saturday against the Calgary Flames, when the Leafs resume their schedule. Connolly, an eight-year veteran with the Buffalo Sabres, is expected to be on the top line with wingers Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul.


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