by Bob Harwood
-- Leafs TV
For one night at least, (the Leafs 2-1 win over Ottawa Saturday) the question of whom Pat Quinn should or would sit out with the return of Gary Roberts took care of itself. It was decided that Shayne Corson would get one more opportunity to rest an injured hand, even though he has publicly stated he was a healthy scratch.
That's a totally separate issue, but to be sure, injuries will impact the Leafs' lineup between now and the end of their run to the playoffs, and their run in the playoffs for that matter. Under ideal circumstances, which is to say an injury-free group of forwards, Quinn will be faced with some very tough decisions.
As we saw in the playoffs last year, where injuries were a major hurdle, difficult circumstances, such as fighting for a spot in the lineup, can be great for the collective competitive edge a team needs to be successful.
Some positive first-signs as the number of healthy forwards grows:
The hard-working but oft-criticized Jonas Hoglund finds himself under a certain amount of pressure to prove he deserves a regular shift, let alone a spot in the lineup, in this time when versatility appears to be a favourite quality of the coach-GM.
| Roberts return gives Pat Quinn a good problem to have. |
Graig Abel Photography
Hoglund was one of the Leafs' top forwards in terms of hustle and scoring chances on Roberts' first night back, and capped a brilliant play by his (new) line-mates Mikael Renberg and Nik Antropov to win the game with his 11th goal of the season.
He told me the crushing check he received in the first period was a kind of wake-up call, a metaphor for the return of Roberts and the movement in the Leafs forward depth-chart. Hoglund answered the call on a lot of levels.
The same can be said for Nik Antropov, whose name was almost always mentioned in the SPECULATION
surrounding the Leafs' interest in trading for Penguins' sniper Alexei Kovalev.
We are seeing more and more signs of why he is assumed to be one of the most coveted players in the Leafs' lineup when trade rumors abound. His improving skills and hard-nosed style around the net have made him a very important part of some of the recent success enjoyed by the duo of Alex Mogilny and Mats Sundin.
Antropov's maturity and growing confidence made it possible, even appropriate, for Quinn to team Roberts with Nik's former linemates. It was a safe bet that he would respond to the move, skating with Hoglund and Renberg, with one of his best efforts of the year on the forecheck and with his positioning.
Antropov will be a leader on this team in short order, when his mental and physical strength are side by side. For now it's an ever-changing and always interesting race, and probably a benefit for him that he can take nothing for granted.
Alyn McCauley had one of the most talked about 15-point playoffs in recent Maple Leaf history last spring. That surge received so much attention not only because of the "break-out" nature of the performance, but also in part because it came while teamed with Roberts on a make-shift No.1 line during an injury-heavy stretch of the Leafs' post season.
It was very popular to assume that Quinn would reunite McCauley with Roberts to instantly gage whether they could re-produce some of the spring time chemistry that carried the Leafs offensively. It is both a suggestion of what Quinn expects of Roberts and of the respect he has for McCauley as a role player that they were not teamed up on a regular shift.
McCauley came into Saturday's meeting with Ottawa on a two-game, goal-scoring streak. The team will benefit from his ability to chip in the odd goal. It will be a sign of team depth and versatility that big offensive numbers from McCauley remain something less than critical, a distant second to the checking and penalty killing expertise he possesses and consistently displays.