The best news out of Thursday’s 5-4 Leafs loss to the New York Islanders?
How about a robust recovery by Leafs defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo?
Yes, it’s been a tough year when the best thing you can say is that a defenceman got up but hear me out, there is certain significance.
Because of a string of hurts that includes concussions, knee injuries, re-occurrence of the knee injuries and injured ears, fingers and wrists, assessing Carlo Colaiacovo is like appraising architecture between earthquakes.
Leafs coach Paul Maurice said he was sparing Colaiacovo the on-going rotation of young defencemen that landed Ian White out of the lineup against the Islanders. The reason? Colaiacovo needs the ice time.
“He hasn’t played that much hockey over the last four or five years,” Maurice said. “If we’ve got him healthy, we’ve got to use him.”
Suits Colaiacovo. Since returning to the lineup eight games ago, he has been plus one and racked-up a game winning goal against the Ottawa Senators. Of late, Maurice has used him with Bryan McCabe against the opposition’s top unit.
“With every game, I’m playing with more confidence,” Colaiacovo said. “I’m doing a lot more with the puck. I’m doing a lot more skating. Obviously playing against a team’s top line definitely helps step your game up.”
All that looked imperiled, if only for a short time when Colaiacovo went down in the second period after an Islander landed awkwardly on his leg.
“You know when it happens it’s going to be okay or not,” he said.
“Obviously, I felt some concern when it first happened. I took some time on the bench. It was sore after the game but it was nothing really.”
Players can stop getting hurt. Nik Antropov, whose list of hurts dwarfed even Colaiacovo’s hasn’t missed a game all season and has delivered a robust style through the campaign.
Colaiacovo has the capacity to be the Leafs’ most punishing defenceman. He is an excellent skater with pretty good offensive instincts. He moved into the Leafs top-six last season and he brings excellent size, instincts and mobility to the party. The trick has been to stay around long enough to build on assets.
“He’s a good player,” said Maurice. “I think he’s capable of a lot. He’s got to get a base of games into him before we get into moving into the next level.”
Maurice says Colaiacovo has lots to give.
“We’d like to see him move the puck and jump into those holes with more authority and snap,” he said. “We want him to grind a little harder in the corners but I think that will come with time as he gets physically stronger and maybe mentally feels the strength in the leg.”
The Leafs play the Boston Bruins, Saturday at Air Canada Centre and while a vocal constituency of fans want to see the team fail and thereby garner a high draft, Maurice says the answer is simple: just play.
“For the kids in that room, you could never give them the impression that you were going out to build a draft spot,” he said. “That’s no way to build a team or build character for your young players.”