All Hands On Deck: James Reimer, Tim Connolly, Tyler Bozak Expected In Lineup Against New York Rangers

October 26th, 2011 1 Comment

The Toronto Maple Leafs are expected to get a trio of injured players back into the lineup Thursday night when they prepare to do battle against the New York Rangers in New York.

Goaltender James Reimer is expected to be back in the lineup after recovering from whip-lash like symptoms, Tyler Bozak is ready to go after injuring his foot while Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke’s prized off-season signing Tim Connolly looks to be ready for game action, recovering from an upper body injury he sustained falling into the boards during training camp.

For Connolly, it will be his first regular season action with the Maple Leafs. His arrival has been a long time coming and with his arrival comes great expectations that he will give Toronto what it has been missing since Mats Sundin left—a true number one centre.

As far fetched as that may seem, Connolly will be given every opportunity to prove his critics wrong. One thing is for sure, the fans of the Blue and White are very divided on Connolly, it will be interesting watching him evolve.

Known as a fragile player, Connolly missed 14 games to injury with the Buffalo Sabres last season. Prior to that he missed nine games in 2009-10, 34 games in each of  2008-09 and 2007-08. In fact, Connolly hasn’t dressed for an entire 82 games season since 2001-02.

The addition of Connolly to the lineup will see a number of lines shaken up. Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson has used Tyler Bozak, Matthew Lombardi and, in a more limited role, David Steckel in between Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel on the Leafs’ top line.

The hope is that Connolly can be slotted in alongside Kessel and Lupul which, if Connolly can stay healthy, should afford Kessel and Lupul a measure of consistency with respect to their linemates as opposed to a revolving door of inadequate first line centres which goes back to last season.

A passer by nature, Connolly is expected to be a good fit along Kessel and Lupul, both of whom prefer the role of the sniper.

With Reimer ready to go that means backup goaltender Ben Scrivens was sent back down to the AHL to play with the Toronto Marlies. Nazem Kadri, is expected to be sent down to the AHL sooner rather than later to work on his game and get into better game shape. With all due respect, the kid is not ready to assume a regular role with the big club.

With Colby Armstrong expected to be out of the lineup for an extended period of time the Maple Leafs will still be unable to dress their “best lineup” of the season, but when you consider the early season success the team has enjoyed and the depth Brian Burke has assembled amongst his forward troops, you could argue the Leafs best lineup has already been iced.

The second unit of Clarke MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin has not had the impact of a year ago. That said, don’t expect Wilson to separate the trio for too long, if at all.

Instead, look for Wilson to ice a lineup that includes Kessel, Connolly and Lupul on the first line with the familiar MacArthur, Grabovski, Kulemin line backing them up and seeing time on the power play.

The third and fourth lines will be a bit of a mystery and likely see change throughout the contest. A third line of Bozak, Matt Frattin and Matthew Lombardi is a possibility with David Steckel, Mike Brown and Philippe Dupuis manning the fourth line.

Wilson has illustrated a willingness to mix up his lines regularly, so if things go sour or the lines look out of sorts look for Wilson to make changes—early and often.

If the lines roll out as expected, that would leave former New York Rangers pugilist Colton Orr out of the lineup as well as fellow shift disturber Jay Rosehill.

On the back end, Wilson is expected to ice a lineup that includes Carl Gunnarsson, Dion Phaneuf, Jake Gardiner, Luke Schenn, John-Michael Liles and Mike Komisarek with Cody Franson sitting out yet another contest.

Both Schenn and Komisarek have struggled of late, leading some to suggest Schenn be left out of the lineup. Instead, Wilson has chosen to allow Schenn attempt to find his legs, but has limited the long-time Maple Leaf to just over 14 minutes per game.

Carrying a salary cap hit of $3.5 million per season, Schenn needs to be a more effective player than he has been. Timely hits, fewer giveaways and smarter decisions in his own zone are a priority for Schenn. Let’s face it, if not for his salary concerns there is little doubt he would have been riding the pine by now, the fact he has escaped a benching is curious.

Komisarek and Franson have been in war for the sixth spot on the defense, with Komisarek emerging the winner for the most part. He too has struggled and, if not for Franson struggling, would likely be out of the lineup more times than not.

Komisarek has been found to be flat footed and careless with the puck, often leading to breakaways and goals from the opposition—the same ailments which have plagued Schenn’s game early on in the season.

Franson has said publicly that he expected to be in the Maple Leafs starting lineup when he came over in a trade from the Nashville Predators but his play, which has been mediocre at best, has dictated him sitting out.

Brian Burke has worked very hard to bring in the skill and depth this team needs to compete for a playoff spot. A victory against the Rangers (who are 3-2-2 on the season) would go a long way in rewarding Burke for his hard work.

New York comes into the match averaging just 2.00 goals per game and the 27th ranked power play. Clearly, offense is not their game, but they do own the third best goals against average at 1.86 goals per game thanks to goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and the 12th ranked penalty kill.

Of course New York does have Brad Richards in their lineup—you know, the player that scorned Toronto for the glory of the Big Apple. Richards has one goal and five points through seven games—not bad, but hardly dominating as many expected Richards would be for the Rangers.

Look for the Maple Leafs to come out flying after two convincing loses to the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers this week. Another loss to an Eastern Conference foe will play havoc with the teams chances at a playoff spot.

Until next time,

Peace!

1 Comment

  1. Stephen Brotherston says:

    After watching Gus in the nets – the Leafs didn’t look any better than in the say – the 5 last seasons – No JR = no shot at the playoffs.

    Better play from Phil & Dion plus some nice adds at forward and defense don’t make up for weak goaltending.

    Looking forward to see what Connolly will bring.

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