Leafs healthy, but feeling pressure
LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
|Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf rocks Penguins' Evgeni Malkin last October in Toronto. (Craig Robertson/QMI Agency/Files)
PITTSBURGH - Whatever fate befalls the Maple Leafs on the scoreboard the next few games, injuries will not be to blame.
And that puts a different kind of playoff pressure on the players and coach Ron Wilson.
“This will pretty much be the first time all year we’re healthy,” winger Joffrey Lupul said Tuesday morning as the Leafs prepped for their first post-break game, against the Penguins.
“We have (33) games to play and there are no excuses if we don’t get in. We don’t want to be left at the end of the season dealing with the fact we couldn’t get the job done.
“I’m sure a couple of more injuries will come down, but we’re in a position now where our fate is in our own hands. Guys have done a great job filling in the void, but with a guy such as (defenceman) John-Michael Liles, it’s pretty noticeable that we missed him.
"Our power play was really clicking when he went out.”
Liles and forwards Colby Armstrong and Darryl Boyce will be ready by the return engagement Wednesday at the ACC. But not all can be accommodated under the 23-man roster.
Boyce and defenceman Keith Aulie are prime candidates to be returned. Aulie, who does not require waivers, will be joined in the seats by at least one other defenceman when Liles gets back.
Young forward Nazem Kadri does not require waivers to demote, but Boyce and the seldom-used, rugged Jay Rosehill do.
“Whatever happens (with the nightly lineup), there will be decisions to (ice) the best team on that given night,” Wilson said. “We have a lot of guys who have worked very hard and deserve to stay in the lineup.”
Liles and Armstrong are coming back from concussions, while the Penguins were going to give an update on Sidney Crosby’s condition later Tuesday afternoon.
Beating the Pens means halting their seven-game winning streak and slowing down the league’s leading scorer, Evgeni Malkin.
“It’s a similar situation, but at a different level to (covering) John Tavares,” Wilson said of holding the Islanders star in check through most of a pre-break home-and-home. “(Tavares) is responsible for a majority of the Islander offence and we have to come up with game plan to neutralize Malkin.
"But Malkin is ripping through everyone right now. You need strong goaltending and defencemen who are aware" — likely Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson when Wilson can get that match-up.
“(Malkin) draws penalties too, so we have to keep our sticks down and be as best as we can physically.”
The Leafs take a January 16-for-16 streak in penalty kills into this game, trying to be the first NHL team since the 1973-74 Blackhawks to go a whole month without allowing a goal, while extending an 11-game run, the longest in club annals since a 15-game run in 1940-41. In the Islander series, they didn’t take one minor.
The Pens will start Marc-Andre Fleury in goal. Pittsburgh’s dressing room has a case full of game pucks given to the nightly MVP, and Fleury’s name is on three of the past five.