Schenn, Leafs blueliners need to step up

Maple Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn laughs during practice at the RCAF Flyers Arena in Trenton,...

Maple Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn laughs during practice at the RCAF Flyers Arena in Trenton, Ont., Oct. 10, 2011. (EMILY MOUNTNEY/QMI Agency)

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:51 PM ET

TORONTO - Ron Wilson said he did not foresee making any lineup changes when the Maple Leafs entertain the NHL’s seventh Canadian franchise, the Winnipeg Jets, on Wednesday night.

Of course, Wilson had not slept on it yet.

“There could be,” the Leafs coach said on Tuesday after practice, “but we will make those decisions tomorrow.”

There could be a return to the lineup by rookie defenceman Jake Gardiner, who has been a spectator for the past two games. The Leafs hierarchy, most notably general manager Brian Burke, said during training camp that if a youngster cracked the Toronto roster, he would play.

It makes zero sense for the Leafs to have the 21-year-old Gardiner watching from the press box more often than not. Keith Aulie is with the Toronto Marlies because he needs to play in games. The situation is no different for Gardiner, who can’t spend many of his formative days wearing a sharp suit and munching on popcorn.

Gardiner thinks he will play against the Jets, but there was no ironclad guarantee.

“They said I might be,” Gardiner said. “Watching has been all right. There are little details and stuff I can work on in practice. It makes you better.”

Could Gardiner get in?

“We just tell (Gardiner) to work hard in practice and stay focused, and when you do go in, don’t change anything about what you have done,” Wilson said. “You did not do anything that resulted in you coming out of the lineup, so just keep doing things the same way.”

Wilson recalled the times during his NHL playing days when he was a healthy scratch.

“Most often, deep down you know why you are a healthy scratch,” Wilson said. “So you have to work hard in practice. Can it make a guy better? It kind of has to, because it means someone is playing better than you.”

Cody Franson, who sat the first two games, was lost at times during a 3-2 overtime fall at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche on Monday, and his inability to track down David Jones led to the Avs’ winning goal. Mike Komisarek blocked three shots but has had better nights overall, and there were some observers who wondered whether Carl Gunnarsson might be one to sit, but Gunnarsson logged almost 24 minutes of ice.

Then there is Luke Schenn, whose 14 minutes 21 seconds of ice time versus Colorado were the lowest of the six Leafs defencemen. Schenn isn’t moving the puck as well as the Leafs staff would like, and whether it’s the weight of the five-year, $18-million US contract he signed on the eve of camp, he has been uptight.

The Leafs have to let Schenn work out of the funk. Benching him for a game is not a controversy that a 3-1 team needs.

“He has had trouble starting games and I think Luke has put a lot of pressure on himself,” Wilson said. “He has to relax and he will be fine.”

Schenn, who had a long chat with assistant coach Scott Gordon toward the end of practice, didn’t put much stock in his decreasing minutes. But after averaging 22 minutes 22 seconds a game last season, the most in his three-year career, Schenn has not hit that time in any of the four games in 2011-12.

“They’re a little bit down right now but that’s all right,” Schenn said. “I’m not too concerned about it. This is not a rough patch. I feel great. I have no issues at all right now.”

Goaltender Jonas Gustavsson, meanwhile, might get his first start of the season against the Jets. If not, expect it to come on Thursday in Boston against the Bruins. Centre Tim Connolly (upper body) could make his Leafs debut some time on the four-game trip, which Wilson said would be “a nice addition.”

Gustavsson made it clear he is ready.

“I haven’t heard anything, and until then, I’m trying to be patient and tough to score on in practice,” Gustavsson said. “You want to play and compete.”

terry.koshan@sunmedia.ca

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