PITTSBURGH - The rekindling of the relationship between Leafs coach Randy Carlyle and forward Jeffrey Lupul may have to wait until next season.
The Leafs got the expected rotten news on Wednesday that Lupul will be lost to the team for as long as a month with a shoulder injury suffered Tuesday night when he was slammed into the boards by Boston’s David Krejci.
Lupul was cruising through a career-season points-wise with 67 (25 goals, 42 assists) and was poised to finish in the top six in league scoring. Not only that, his chemistry with Phil Kessel was also helping the latter’s output, particularly early in the season.
“Unfortunately, it comes at a bad time for us as we are trying to make a playoff push here,” centre David Steckel said. “You obviously can’t replace a guy like Joffrey Lupul, except with himself. We’re going to have guys step up in different situations. It’s an opportunity for some guys to get more ice time and perhaps showcase what they have to offer.”
“Points are going to have to come from somewhere. He’s a huge void to fill. Something like this might spark a couple of guys.”
The biggest opportunity came for Carter Ashton, who was an emergency recall from the Marlies and grabbed an early flight to Pittsburgh to make the first start of his NHL career. Ashton, who was acquired by general manager Brian Burke on trade deadline day in the deal that sent Keith Aulie to Tampa, wore No. 37 and logged nine minutes and 30 seconds in his debut.
Even though Mike Brown was good to go (until he was injured on the first shift) Carlyle opted to give Ashton the thrill of a lifetime, putting him in the opening lineup with centre Tim Connolly and winger Joey Crabb.
“We’re not going to bring a kid up and have him sit on the bench and not be a part of our hockey team,” Carlyle said. “We’re going to play these kids. Put him in where he fits and where you project him to be in the lineup and let him play his game.
“We started him because I think it’s important for the kid to get in the lineup right off the bat.”
Determined to find a combination that works, Carlyle had a couple of new healthy scratches. This time it was Luke Schenn, who has had a rough season throughout and forward Matthew Lombardi, who hardly brings the physical presence he desires, watching from the press box.
Matt Frattin, who has played well since his latest recall, spent most of the game skating on the top line with Kessel and Tyler Bozak.