After one of their worst showings of the season Saturday against San Jose and an outdoor practice Monday, the Maple Leafs reconvened at their practice facility Tuesday to prepare for their home game against Columbus the following night. And although they’re going to be without injured offensive threat James van Riemsdyk
for the next 6-8 weeks, they’re hoping the energy and skill offered by his roster replacement – Marlies winger Josh Leivo
– will help their cause.
“It’s always nice to see guys come up like that,” Leafs winger P-A Parenteau said of the 22-year-old Leivo, who had 11 goals and 30 points in the AHL prior to his recall. “I was one of those guys one day, so I know exactly how it is for him. It is rejuvenating. He’s going to be skating really hard tomorrow, and he’s going to help the team for sure.”
“He’s obviously done a real good job where he’s at, now he gets an opportunity with us,” added head coach Mike Babcock. “We’ll try to give him an opportunity and a good opportunity, and find out what we have. I think it’s real important to find out what you have in your own group before you go looking elsewhere for help.”
Leivo skated on a line in practice Tuesday with NHL rookie center Byron Froese and veteran winger Brad Boyes, and the trio took time to communicate with each other regarding their tendencies and ways in which they can help each other. Leivo said he’s already seeing some solid results in that regard.
“I played with Froesey a bit last year (with the Marlies), and Boyesy is a great player and he just likes to pass the puck a lot,” Leivo said. “We’re trying to figure out some chemistry between us, we were doing some line rushes, and we found each other in the slot a little bit. I think we’re just communicating to find how we play, and hopefully, we can figure it out a little more before the game.”
From Babcock’s perspective, Leivo’s talents in the offensive zone are readily apparent. But it’s the Innisfil, Ont., native’s all-around game that he believes needed honing.
“From the top of the circles in, he’s a real good player, strong on the puck, makes good plays, sees it, can score,” Babcock said of Leivo. “His 200-foot-game is the part he’s been working on all year long, and we’ll give him an opportunity to see how it goes.”
When they take to the ice Wednesday to battle the Blue Jackets, the Leafs will be intent on atoning for a 7-0 blowout loss to the Sharks Saturday. Columbus has the NHL’s worst record (15-24-4) and have key players Sergei Bobrovsky and Nick Foligno sidelined with injuries, but they’ve also just acquired star defenceman Seth Jones from Nashville and are desperate to climb out of the Eastern Conference basement, so Toronto will need to be fully-attentive to them or risk losing their third straight game.
“They’re a good hockey team,” Parenteau said of the Jackets. “They just didn’t have the start (to the season) that they wanted, and they’ve been chasing it all year. We know they’re a good squad, and we’re going to have to respect them, but not too much, obviously.”
“The common mistake against a team below you in the standings, sometimes you have the tendency to play – you don’t want to say ‘down to their level’ – but essentially, you almost take the night off,” added veteran forward Daniel Winnik. “And that’s when you lose. You’ve got to take this game as their first, and we’re battling for a playoff spot.”