Gardiner moves down Expressway

Rookie defenceman Jake Gardiner (above) and Joffrey Lupul, acquired from Anaheim late last season,...

Rookie defenceman Jake Gardiner (above) and Joffrey Lupul, acquired from Anaheim late last season, have become key performers for the Leafs. (CRAIG ROBERTSON/QMI Agency)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:46 PM ET

Jake Gardiner had an assist in his first game with the Toronto Marlies on Sunday afternoon, after being demoted from the Leafs.

Fulfilling Toronto general manager Brian Burke’s edict that Gardiner not grow stale after four games in the ACC press box, he was officially moved to the Marlies’ roster Sunday morning in time for the contest in Hamilton. Gardiner, who had 10 assists in Toronto with more than 20 minutes of ice a night in 37 games, had a helper with Joe Colborne on a Marcel Mueller goal. But it was all the Marlies could generate in a 2-1 loss to the Bulldogs.

Gardiner’s removal from the scene leaves Toronto with no spare defenders with John-Michael Liles still not with the team after a concussion. But the Leafs are at home all week and the Marlies don’t play again until Saturday’s outdoor game at Ivor Wynne Stadium against Hamilton.

The demotion conveniently puts the spotlight on the six most experienced Leafs defencemen in three games this week, in case interested teams are watching for trade evaluation purposes.

In his rookie season, Gardiner’s skating ability had won him regular time with the Leafs and he was competent defensively. But the return from injury of Mike Komisarek and an emphasis on more size in the lineup squeezed him out of a job for now.

LINE REUNION

It’s another spin on the turntable for Mac n’ the USSR.

That’s the media’s nickname for the on again-off again grouping of Clarke MacArthur and the Russian-speaking Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski. After a few games with Joey Crabb in MacArthur’s left wing role, Crabb was shifted to MacArthur’s spot with Matthew Lombardi and Nazem Kadri on Saturday, halfway through the Leafs’ 3-0 loss to the New York Rangers. The latter line has fallen on some hard times offensively, while Kulemin and Grabovski had started clicking prior to Saturday.

It is coach Ron Wilson’s hope that the line finds the scoring touch of last year when it combined for 80 goals and were more effective at times than the one-dimensional first line.

“Secondary scoring is going to be big,” MacArthur said. “Hopefully, we can get it going if we stay and it can build from there. Grabbo put me in alone (Saturday on Martin Biron). I didn’t score, but it was still a great play. We just have to keep working at it from here.”

Crabb keeps helping whatever line Wilson plugs him in to.

“He has a lot of energy and finishes his checks,” Wilson noted. “And I think (fourth-liners) Darryl Boyce and Mike Brown do the same things. Those guys always have presence in the offensive zone.”

ARMY HUMOUR

George Armstrong, about the fittest-looking 81-year-old you’ll meet, greeted ex-Leaf toughs Bob McGill and Nick Kypreos in the ACC press box on Saturday.

“Was that you guys I saw playing pickup hockey here this afternoon?” Armstrong asked with a straight face.

Flattered, both men nodded yes.

“Well, I wouldn’t worry about the police ever giving you speeding tickets,” quipped The Chief, never breaking his stride.

LOOSE LEAFS

While the Rangers’ first-period hit advantage of 27-8 was darn impressive, the Leafs made it 31-21 in the final 40 minutes. “Their D moved up into the play a lot and took the wings away,” MacArthur said. “Then you start chipping the puck in and their goalie is moving it out. So it’s tough to get a forecheck.” ... Good on Leafs TV for recent profiles on two of the Canadian Multicultural Hockey League’s teams, the Punjabi Warriors and Italian Gladiators. The Leafs have wanted more presence among new Canadians as their fan base changes, and the CMHL is ideal.


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