David Clarkson says it’s tough to sit on the sidelines and watch your team play. He should know.
The high-profile off-season acquisition has missed a third of the Maple Leafs’ games this season due to suspensions.
“It’s never easy,” Clarkson said after the Leafs’ optional gameday skate on Tuesday.
“I’ll tell you, the hardest thing to do is to watch your team play, whether you’re in your own building or watching at home with your family … It’s tough to sit there and watch because you want to help your team.”
Clarkson will get a chance to help Tuesday night at the Air Canada Centre when he rejoins the lineup as the Maple Leafs (17-15-3) take on the streaking Florida Panthers (12-17-5).
Clarkson is returning from his latest suspension, a two-game ban for hitting St. Louis Blues centre Vladimir Sobotka from behind on Thursday. Previous to that he had to sit the first 10 games of the season after jumping off the bench in the pre-season to join in a melee against the Buffalo Sabres.
“I’ve never been suspended in my career,” Clarkson said. “The last one was a tough one to swallow. You’re trying to get comfortable (with your new team) and then the next 10 games you’re playing catch up and then ‘boom’ you get hit with this.”
Things haven’t exactly gone as planned for Clarkson since he was signed by Toronto in the off-season. The two suspensions, just two goals and four assists in 23 games. Not great numbers. You wouldn’t want to call the winger a bust at this point, it’s far too early in his tenure with the team, but he hasn’t provided the edge or offence the Leafs were hoping he when they acquired him for a cap hit of $5.25 million a season over seven years.
And no matter how the Leafs try to spin it (we didn’t bring him here to score), Clarkson has been invisible on many nights.
“I never would have drawn it up this way,” Clarkson said. “But I’m a very positive person and believe we have something special in this room and no matter what pieces are in or out of this lineup, we have to continue to play 60 minutes. But I think we’ll be fine. I’m happy to get back in and try to get this thing rolling in the right direction.”
Hopefully, some of that positivity starts to pay off for Clarkson and the Leafs.
If he is going to turn his season around, now is the time. Toronto could use a few wins as it kicks off a three-game homestand against the Panthers and plays five of six at the ACC to close out the year.
You would think that the 14th-placed Panthers might provide some relief for the Leafs, especially after a 3-1 loss in Pittsburgh on Monday night that completed a two-week run against some of the NHL’s toughest competition.
Unfortunately for Toronto, the Panthers have won five of six, including a season-high three straight, and will be rested after not having played since a 2-1 victory in Montreal in Sunday and arriving in Toronto after that game.
It’s difficult to say who will get the start in goal for the Leafs, who are facing the Panthers for the first time this season. James Reimer was the only goalie on the ice during the optional skate, which points to Jonathan Bernier getting his third straight start in net.
Bernier made 28 saves in the loss to the Penguins.
Scott Clemmensen, who played in three games with the Leafs in 2007-08, gets the start for the Panthers. He has gone 2-1-2 against the Leafs while compiling a 1.75 goals against average, his lowest mark versus any team he has faced more than once.
“I have good memories of being here and of my time with the (AHL) Marlies,” Clemmensen said. “I always like coming back to Toronto and playing in this building, it’s always exciting when you get to play in Canada. I think it’s a different atmosphere.”
Other notable players on the ice for the Leafs’ optional skate were injured forwards Tyler Bozak (oblique) and Colton Orr (elbow), who both stayed out on the ice for extra work after their teammates had long departed.