February 13, 2012
Lighting a fire under ConnollyWilson tries to get forward geared up for trip
By TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency
TORONTO - Time for Tim Connolly to start doing something.
Don’t get us wrong — the 30-year-old veteran has played a significant role in turning the Maple Leafs’ penalty killing around. Among Toronto forwards, only David Steckel has averaged more ice time a game when the Leafs are shorthanded.
But Connolly draws a salary of $5.5-million US this season, the second-highest paid Leafs forward after Phil Kessel, and costs the Leafs $4.75 million against the salary cap.
For that, so far, you get seven goals and 18 assists in 44 games. The past 16 games? Zero goals and three assists. Even if, say, Connolly is playing with a minor injury, those numbers are unacceptable.
It’s a bit ridiculous that Leafs coach Ron Wilson is at the point, when every game is crucial and a playoff spot is anything but a guarantee, that one of his richest players needs a kick in the pants.
But that’s where Wilson finds himself with Connolly, who has been moved to the right wing on a line with centre Mikhail Grabovski and winger Clarke MacArthur.
Nikolai Kulemin has been dropped to the third line, and Matthew Lombardi will move to the middle on that unit, taking Connolly’s spot.
“Grabo has been playing exceptionally well, and this is to get both Kulie and Timmy going a little bit,” Wilson said. “A different look with Timmy going over to the wing. Take some of the responsibility defensively away from him and get him thinking about playing with a couple of guys who have been pretty successful this year and hopefully he can get out of his little mini-slump here.”
Connolly said he was frustrated, but only to the point that the Leafs have fallen down recently, losing three in a row for the fifth time this season.
“We have been winning hockey games, which is the most important thing until this last skid we have had,” Connolly said. “The last few games have been frustrating just because we have been losing hockey games. Before that, we were on a run and playing really solid hockey. For me, it is about winning and just have to show up every day trying to do what you can to help the team win.”
Perhaps the Leafs would have won some of those games had Connolly been anywhere near the scoresheet.
The line juggling certainly wasn’t the lone concern for Wilson as the Leafs practised in preparation for their three-game Western Canada trip, which starts on Tuesday night in Calgary against the Flames.
Defenceman Carl Gunnarsson banged into the end boards at the MasterCard Centre, with some accidental assistance from forward Jay Rosehill, and had to be helped off the ice. Gunnarsson appeared to favour his right leg and did not return.
Gunnarsson’s status was not clear.
“We’re not sure,” Wilson said. “He is going to need an image on it. We’ll wait until we get to Calgary and he will have it checked out and hopefully it is not serious.
“Unfortunately, he was slipping going in (to the corner boards) and so was Rosie and they both crashed into the boards.”
If Gunnarsson is out, Mike Komisarek, who has been a healthy scratch for the past six games, will be back in the lineup against the Flames. Another defenceman, possibly Keith Aulie or Korbinian Holzer, would be recalled from the Toronto Marlies.
A loss of Gunnarsson would be a blow to the defence corps. He couldn’t be less flashy, but he is a solid partner for Dion Phaneuf, who can get away with a little more because Gunnarsson is good at covering the captain’s butt.
The Leafs haven’t won in Calgary since Dec. 27, 2002, losing five games in a row in Cowtown.
Connolly, if he clicks with his new linemates (he and MacArthur have had chemistry previously), could help that streak end.
“They are both really skilled and can make plays offensively,” Connolly said. “I have played wing in the past, at different times throughout the season, and hopefully we can get something going.”