Leafs face big test against Red Wings
Lance Hornby, QMI Agency
|Leafs defenceman Mike Komisarek lays into the back of forward Tim Connolly during a scrum along the boards. (JACK BOLAND/QMI Agency)
One of the biggest tests of the Maple Leafs’ worth as playoff contenders will be Saturday against the Red Wings, a perennial post-season qualifier.
The Leafs’ chances received a boost on Friday when it was confirmed winger Mike Brown and defenceman Mike Komisarek will be back and that captain Dion Phaneuf should recover from a bruised jaw in time. Phaneuf, voted to the NHL all-star game a few hours before taking a puck in the side of his head on Thursday, rested at home.
“There’s no break or anything like that,” coach Ron Wilson said. “We’re listing him as day-to-day, but I expect him to play.”
Brown and Komisarek return the same day after weeks away with long-term injuries, Brown from back surgery, Komisarek from a broken arm. It’s likely Brown bumps Matt Frattin from the fourth line, a move that takes away some offence, but gives the Leafs a more fierce player who can help on the penalty kill. Not that the Leafs have looked too bad the past two games after an awful road trip when down a man.
“We bottomed out (New Year’s Eve) in Winnipeg in certain areas (of the PK),” Wilson said. “Since then our focus has been good, we’ve used some different guys such as Darryl Boyce and Joey Crabb. In their careers, they’re bubble guys who will do anything, like stick their heads in front of a shot, knowing if they don’t, they wouldn’t be here. That kind of intensity has helped our PK a lot.”
If Komisarek and Phaneuf are both back, someone will have to sit. The Leafs sent Korbinian Holzer back to the farm for at least one game but will recall him if Phaneuf doesn’t recover. Winger Colby Armstrong was not on the ice Friday after two days of practice following a concussion and Wilson admitted there had been “a little setback” that will be assessed in the coming days.
The disciplined Detroit lineup is once again among the league leaders in vital statistics, fifth in goals, third-best in goals-against and second lowest in penalty minutes per game. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg continue to haunt the opposition with their speed, while Nicklas Lidstrom hasn’t missed a game and plays almost 24 minutes, despite turning 42 when the Wings presumably commence their 21st straight spring in the playoffs.
“Why doesn’t he just retire and give us all a break?,” joked Wilson. “I’ve used him as an example on video through the years. If you don’t have good things about your own team to show, give them Lidstrom highlights. He’s not a physical player at all, but he defends as well as anyone.
“As a team, they create speed by moving the puck fast. And the one thing the Wings have got and have drafted are big power forwards, the Johan Franzens, the Tomas Holmstroms. We’re still a ways from that, but a lot of teams look to Detroit as a blueprint.”
Jonas Gustavsson will get his third straight start on Saturday in Toronto’s net, having beaten the Wings 5-1 in his only other start against them, the 2009 Hall of Fame Game.