TORONTO - More than two weeks after Maple Leafs centre David Steckel blocked a shot with the pinky finger on his left hand, the digit still looks like someone took a hammer to it.
And, no shock, the injury has had an adverse effect on what Steckel does best: Win faceoffs.
A left-handed shot, Steckel has been forced to taking faceoffs with just three fingers on his left hand, the lower one on his stick.
“I’m not going to snap them (faceoffs) back as hard or have as much strength on my stick,” Steckel said. “It affects mobility and strength. I’m trying to not get smoked on it, and at the same time, I have one less finger and it happens to be the bottom one. Guys come in pretty hard (when the puck is dropped).”
Steckel suffered the injury on Nov. 25 in Dallas against the Stars and, two nights after, did not play in Anaheim versus the Ducks. In the five games since, Steckel has taken 64 draws, winning 27 and losing 37 for a 42% success rate. Prior to the injury, he won 233 draws and lost 159 for a 59% success rate.
In a game where puck control, especially when the Leafs are shorthanded, is so crucial, those are vital numbers.
Among NHL players who have taken at least 500 faceoffs this season, Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks leads the NHL with a 61.9 winning percentage.
What remains of the nail on Steckel’s fingertip is just a couple of purple bits. He had stitches, which have been removed, but the bone at the end of his finger, below the last knuckle, was shattered.
“From the knuckle down, it’s like dust,” said the 6-foot-6, 215-pound Steckel, who was acquired from the Washington Capitals on Oct. 4. “I’m just starting to get a little sensation back with the nerves.
“Unless you have four to six weeks without a game in the season, it’s not going to get better that quick. You suck it up and play.”
WIN ONE FOR THE REIMER
James Reimer has saved his Maple Leafs teammates from defeat on more than a handful of occasions since he became the team’s No. 1 goaltender in the second half of last season.
Is it time for his teammates to return the favour? Reimer is 0-2-1 since returning from concussion-like symptoms.
“He has stolen so many games for us and always made those huge timely saves,” defenceman Luke Schenn said. “It’s always tough coming back from injury and getting that mid-season form back, but he has not played bat, at all. We have not given him a ton of support.
“Teams that win championships, goaltending is the main reason. But you’re not going to rely on him totally.”
Coach Ron Wilson has not said who will start in goal against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night. It’s worth mentioning that Jonas Gustavsson is 5-1 in his past six starts.
“I feel pretty much back to where I was at the start of the year,” Reimer said. “Conditioning-wise, there is no slack that needs to be made up.”