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Injuries, Suspension Affecting Leafs

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

It looks like not one but the Leafs two top lines will be makeshift units Thursday when the club opens its regular season Thursday against the Montreal Canadiens.

Their big unit, Mikhail Grabovski-Nikolai Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur has already been disrupted because of McArthur’s two-game suspension.

Now Tim Connolly, the team’s most prominent offseason acquisition has told coach Ron Wilson that an injury, described only as the ubiquitous UBI (upper body injury) will likely keep him out of the lineup.

“He told me he was doubtful after the practice,” said Wilson. “We still have tomorrow and another day.  I will remain cautiously optimistic but still have a plan in case he can’t go.”

That plan is Tyler Bozak, who toiled between Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul last year and will be reunited with them if Connolly can’t go. Bozak will eventually centre the third line but with Matt Lombardi just beginning to find his legs after a year off with a concussion, Bozak is the natural choice.

Connolly missed 14 games last season as a Buffalo Sabre with injuries to his lower body, a hip flexor and a broken nose. Since a concussion knocked him out of 80 games in 2006-2007, Connolly has missed an average of 23 games due to injury over four seasons.

Connolly said he did not know whether he would play against the Habs.  He took a little light contact but skated with the subs during line drills.

“We’re going to go tomorrow and push it a little bit more; maybe do some battle drills and see how it goes from there. We’ll play it day by day like we have been.”

The last few days have not brought a lot of good news for Wilson.

“We’ve got a suspension (MacArthur) and an injury to a very key person (Connolly). A couple of guys didn’t play much (in the pre-season) because of injury Bozak (LBI), Mike Brown (groin) and Matt Lombardi (concussion)  I am concerned about chemistry but sometimes that’s just a coach worrying.”

Matt Frattin will slide in beside Kulemin and Grabovski.

Over the next two weeks, the quirks of the schedule will be prominent for the Leafs. Thursday’s game against the Canadiens is the first of five consecutive home dates. The Leafs play Ottawa on Saturday and then take a week off before playing Calgary on October 15. The Leafs host Colorado on October 17 and the reconstituted Winnipeg Jets two days later.

It’s a scenario Wilson does not relish.

“I have always said I would always start on the road and build up for a home opener but last year we started the first two games at home and we were fine. As long as you are ready, you’re ready.”

The Leafs beat Montreal in their opener last year and then defeated Ottawa, Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers before the wheels fell off. The team then won only one of its next six starts.

Notes: It didn’t take long for Joey Crabb to make his way back to the Leafs. A day after he was waived, Crabb was recalled because of injuries to Nazem Kadri and Connolly as well as MacArthur’s suspension. “Good to be back,” he grinned when asked about his stint outside the organization which involved him clearing waivers and being re-assigned to the Maple Leafs. Crabb skated on a line with Philippe Dupuis and Colby Armstrong. The fourth line will be composed of Brown, Lombardi and Jay Rosehill…The expected pairings for Thursday are Dion Phaneuf with Carl Gunnarsson, Luke Schenn with John-Michael Liles and Mike Komisarek with Jake Gardiner. Newcomer Cody Franson will start the season as a scratch, a fact Wilson attributed not so much to a poor camp but to the improved play of Komisarek. “He’ll play lots,” Wilson said.
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