The Toronto Maple Leafs came back from the All-Star break to find both good news and bad news in the morning paper. The Maple Leafs are just six points out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings. That’s the good news.
Simple enough, you think. Say the Leafs beat St. Louis at ACC on Tuesday beat Carolina in the tobacco belt on Thursday and defeat Ottawa at home on Saturday. Indulge me.
Let’s further suppose that the Islanders lose three games. Does that mean the Leafs are in and the Islanders out?
Nope. And that’s where the math turns prohibitive. The New York Rangers, tied with the Islanders would no doubt be standing in eighth. Or the Washington Capitals, or Buffalo, or Tampa.
So on a night when the Leafs don’t play and Florida beats Atlanta in overtime, the Leafs stand to lose two points to Florida and also one point to Atlanta. They lose ground, even when the team they are chasing loses.
It’s not the points that will kill you; it’s the number of teams between where you are and where you want to be. And five teams, a third of the conference, is a lot of teams.
It was under those circumstances that the Maple Leafs, save for returning All-Star Tomas Kaberle, re-assembled at Lakeshore Lions Arena.
They have lost Alexei Ponikarovsky for at least another month with a shoulder injury. Alex Steen will be out another 10 days or so, also with a shoulder injury. Those two comprise the first two spots on the Leafs depth chart at left wing.
This means a promotion for Jiri Tlusty, who will slide in with Mats Sundin and Nik Antropov on the club’s number one line.
“Hopefully, we’ll make lots of situations to score goals and hopefully we will get some momentum,” said Tlusty.
Tlusty could use the momentum. After scoring twice in his first game, including one shot that glanced in off his bum, he has just one goal in his last 26 games.
“I have lots of chances,” Tlusty said. “I don’t know why, I get I’m nervous in the game. If I can score a lucky goal, maybe everything comes. We have to see.”
Just 19, Tlusty has a good feel for the game and does the right thing when he is not scoring. The trick, for him, is to not worry about finding Sundin but to let Sundin find him.
Meanwhile, Carlo Colaiacovo is back a month after tweaking a knee injury against Philadelphia.
“Today was a real good test,” he said, peeling off his equipment. “I felt great."
It has been, he said, a tough grind to get back.
“I’ve been using all my motivation off the ice to get myself back on the ice. I’m just grateful for the chance to wake up every morning and still be part of this organization and team. I’m relishing the opportunity to get back.”
Meanwhile, Leafs coach Paul Maurice found grounds for hope.
“You go back to last year. We hit a rash of injuries and went 8-4-1 in January with a pretty young crew. We’ve had some experience and some success playing games with some beat up guys and some injuries and we expect to do the same.”