Leafs not lying down after losses
LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
TORONTO - New year, same old Leafs?
Mike Komisarek would hear none of that Monday. His words would ring louder if he still weren’t on the injured list, but the Toronto defenceman believes that by the time he and Mike Brown get back during this homestand the team will reverse its slow decline in the standings.
“We worked far too hard at the start of the year to put ourselves in a good spot,” Komisarek said after a tough two-hour tutorial and a players-only meeting at the MasterCard Centre. “We’re not going to let a couple of games ruin that confidence and all that effort we put in.
“It’s having that lunch-pail attitude, coming to the rink every day, willing to work. We had a constructive day today and a good debate out there. It’s up to us to go out there and execute.”
Three losses in a row on the post-Christmas road trip has just about cleared the bandwagon, even though the Leafs remain nine points and almost 30 goals ahead of last year’s pace. They haven’t suffered a four-game losing streak in 13 months, though the Tampa Bay Lightning could make it so if the Leafs don’t tighten up by Tuesday.
Coach Ron Wilson was stung by the three close losses and the drop to 10th spot in the Eastern Conference, but balanced that in his head with four points just before Christmas, including the Buffalo win that bodes well for playing nine of the next 10 at the Air Canada Centre.
“We just have to take care of business, especially the head to heads with team ahead of us,” he said.
There were some positives on the ice Monday with Komisarek and Brown joining the full workout and a spirited meeting of the seven defencemen and all four coaches when most others had departed.
Winger Brown could return before Komisarek, a little earlier than expected from back surgery in late November. Brown was originally battling a groin injury, then developed a herniated disc from compensating for the injury, which in turn pinched a nerve that bothered his hip and legs. That cut down greatly on Brown’s value as a fast-skating checker, who has been the Leafs’ primary fighter with Colton Orr and Jay Rosehill marginalized.
“It could be next game, it could be the next few games,” Brown said. “I’ve been skating a week and longer, hard skates with Komisarek, and I didn’t feel too badly out there today. I think I’d be ready to go (Tuesday), but you have to wait for the right time and for the trainers’ (approval).”
Wilson said it’s possible one or both could be back by Saturday’s game against Detroit. Komisarek’s broken arm has healed, but timing and conditioning are question marks. Both will help out the last-place penalty killing unit.
“They’re impact players,” goalie James Reimer said. “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, and he’ll help the penalty kill.
“Hey, it’s a brand new year. December (4-6-3) wasn’t the month we wanted, but the sun came up today.”
Reimer knows he might be looking at Tuesday’s game on the end of the bench, his first rest since Dec. 17. Though he had road breakdowns, he has made between 30 and 40 saves the past five games. Wilson would only say Jonas Gustavsson “may” start against Tampa.
The goalies joined the defencemen and coaches in the post-practice scrum. It’s purpose was to improve traffic and communication and while it’s a little late in the season to need such a summit, all concerned came away satisfied with the results.
Defenceman Luke Schenn said it’s too early to panic.
“We have to get back to basics, not get (split) in the locker room,” he said “Everyone has to pick it up a notch, not be too frustrated.”
BOLTS HEATING UP
When the Leafs and Lightning last met, Toronto put a converted touchdown on the board in a 7-1 win.
It was part of a wobbly stretch of 5-11 that has kept the Bolts well down the ladder in the East, while Toronto was 12-8-2 overall at the time. But entering Tuesday, the clubs are heading in opposite directions with three-game streaks. Tampa has scraped back to .500 and can get within two points of Toronto with another win.
“We have some big guys getting their swagger back,” winger Teddy Purcell said Monday in a phone interview. “Which is great for their confidence, because they put a lot of pressure on themselves and take a lot of the blame if we lose.”
Purcell was talking about league-leading scorer Steven Stamkos (26 goals), Vince Lecavalier (five game-winning goals) and Marty St. Louis (30 points in 32 games, including his recent 500th career assist). Stamkos had his second hat trick of the year in a New Year’s Eve win over Carolina.
Purcell leads an improving group of secondary scorers, with his 21 points. Ryan Malone had three assists in the Carolina game and Steve Downie set a career high with three helpers. The Lightning are starting a three-game Canadian road trip to Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa that will take them near many hometowns.
“I was a Canadiens’ fan at first,” said the St. John’s, Nfld.-born Purcell. “But then the Baby Leafs came to our city and I spent a lot of time following them to the NHL.”