|The Leafs Mike Brown says he's just waiting for medical approval before returning to the Leafs lineup. (QMI Agency files)
TORONTO - What will end first, the Maple Leafs’ losing streak or the long wait that Mike Brown and Mike Komisarek have endured on the injured list?
For Toronto’s sake, some Ws beter start appearing first, even though the imminent return of the duo later in the week would help immensely.
“They’re impact players,” goalie James Reimer said after both made it through a two-hours practice on Monday at the MasterCard Centre. “Their role is huge for our team and our success. It will be great to have Komo back there, a steady defenceman who blocks shots and does a great job of boxing guys out. Brownie just works his butt off and does what it takes, every shift.”
Both have been gone weeks, but coach Ron Wilson cautioned it’s too early into their on-ice re-conditioning to expect a return any earlier than Saturday’s game against the Red Wings. Wilson also pointed out that Wednesday’s practice at an outdoor community rink before playing the Jets won’t likely be a proper test for any players. So the impetus to halt a three-game slump will be with most of the players who departed Winnipeg New Year’s Eve on the wrong end of a 3-2 decision.
“Hey, it’s a brand new year,” Reimer said. “December (4-6-3) wasn’t the month we wanted, but the sun came up today.”
A new year meant some new lines with Toronto trying to avoid a four-game losing streak for the first time in 13 months. Concern that leading scorer Phil Kessel was going to be sidelined with a foot injury were eased when he returned with Joffrey Lupul and Tim Connolly, though regular first-line centre Tyler Bozak remains on the IR.
Brown’s way back to the lineup was cleared when winger Philippe Dupuis was placed on waivers Monday. With the Leafs’ penalty killing at 30th and specialist Dupuis being party to the problems and scoreless, the move made sense as soon as his broken hand healed. Wilson said he hopes Dupuis finds his scoring touch with the AHL Marlies, assuming he’s not claimed.
“I’d play tomorrow if they’d let me, but it’s up to the trainers,” said Brown, who is coming off back surgery. Komisarek, recovering from a broken arm, hopes to be back by next week for certain.
Left winger Joey Crabb is now playing with Russian-speaking Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin, the latter most in need of a complementary winger. Matt Frattin, in a scoring funk of his own, was dropped from that line and is now on the fourth unit with Darryl Boyce and David Steckel. Matthew Lombardi was between Nazem Kadri and Clarke MacArthur on Monday.
The Leafs take on the Tampa Bay Lightning Tuesday, heralding nine of the next 10 games at home. Oher than saying Jonas Gustavsson would be getting some starts during the homestand, Wilson would not confirm using him ahead of Reimer on Tuesday.