PHILADELPHIA - He may not be ready to handle the bruising Flyers just yet, but Tim Connolly believes he is moving much closer to finally making his regular-season debut as a Maple Leaf.
The veteran forward, who is eventually expected to centre the big line of Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, has been cleared for contact and took his first friendly fire from teammates during Sunday’s practice at the Wells Fargo Center.
“It was good to get some bumping in,” said Connolly, who has been out of the lineup since crashing hard into the MasterCard Centre boards during a training camp practice. “I had a few contact drills and some one-on-one stuff in the corners with some of our bigger defencemen.
“I’ll probably have to do a few more contact days and kind of work into it and after that I should be ready to go. We’ll see how I feel tomorrow and do a little bit more and get bumped a little bit harder. Today was a step in the right direction for me.”
As frustrating as it has been not to get a chance to play, Connolly says his rehab has been made easier by the fact that his teammates have been off to a winning start without him. But as the team’s big free-agent signing in July, the former Sabre is anxious to contribute to the good vibe around him.
Though it’s unlikely he will see action on this four-game road trip, he has accompanied the team to help fast-track his recovery.
“Obviously that helps out quite a bit,” Connolly said.
“It’s easy to stay positive when you come into the arena with the guys working hard and having fun. It makes me want to do the same thing.”
BOZAK WAITS IT OUT
The way things have been going so far this season, it’s no wonder that Tyler Bozak wants to take the express lane back into the Leafs lineup.
His work between Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul has helped boost his confidence, but a nagging bone bruise, thanks to a blocked shot from the heavy stick of Bruins defenceman Johnny Boychuk on Thursday night, is delaying the process.
“As of right now, we think it’s just a bruise,” Bozak said after skating with the team during Sunday’s practice at the Wells Fargo Center. ‘It’s getting better every day. It’s just one of those nagging things where it’s tough to put weight on it and go where you want to. I’m hoping that I can go (Monday against the Flyers).”
Leafs coach Ron Wilson and the team’s medical staff will be the judge of that, of course. On Saturday, Bozak was replaced on the top unit by Matthew Lombardi.
“I’ll see how he feels (Monday),” Wilson said. “Every player is going to tell you he wants to play the next game. But if a player is not ready to go 100% and we have other people who can. That’s what we base our decision on.”