December 16, 2007

The Plague Strikes Again

The Toronto Maple Leafs were all but fully healthy and, finally, playing good hockey. In retrospect, it was only a matter of time before the MLSE injury plague struck this team again, and strike did it ever last night. With a vengeance.

The Leafs lost much more than their game to the Montreal Canadiens last night. Gone is their momentum from the last two weeks and, more importantly, gone is Bryan McCabe, lost for two months with a broken hand. He's scheduled to go under the knife tomorrow.

Wonderful. Just wonderful. McCabe had been playing his best hockey of the season in the last couple of weeks. He was logging a ton of ice time and was focusing on the defensive aspects of his game. Best of all, he was playing with confidence, something he lacked throughout October and November (I guess own goals and headlines like "Bryan McKlutz" in the local papers will do that to you).

I can't say I'm surprised. Someone was bound to go down. It was only a matter of time. I figured it would be the oft-injured Nik Antropov. He's been playing phenomenal hockey all season and hasn't missed a game all year. That - thirty-three games played in a row for big number 80 - is an accomplishment in itself for Antropov. It has got to be a personal record for the big man from Kazakhstan.

The McCabe injury means JFJ is going to be dipping into the farm once again. It won't be Staffan Kronwall getting the call. He's injured too. He's got about as much luck with injuries as Carlo Colaiacovo, and that ain't a good thing.

Anton Stralman might get the call, but it should be Derrick Walser. Walser has been a force with the Toronto Marlies and is second on the club in scoring, with 21 points. The defenceman is actually tied with Kris Newbury for the team lead in goals with nine. He's also tied for the team lead with five power play points. Walser's got a respectable shot from the point and has 91 games of NHL experience under his belt. He's the logical choice, which means Stralman will probably be on the blue line for the Leafs in Carolina on Tuesday night (you know how we do!).

The McCabe injury also means more ice-time for Pavel Kubina, especially on the power play, and (gulp!) Andy Wozniewski. Kubina paired with Tomas Kaberle on the power play might be a good thing, because the Leafs' power play has continued to do, well, nothing. It's sputtering along and I'm welcome to any changes in order to get it going. As for more ice time for the Wizard of Woz, well, I'm not even going to go there. There's no point. Although the Woz does have more points on the season than Darcy Tucker. Tucker should be deeply, deeply ashamed of himself.

As for Carlo Colaiacovo, he's back on the ice skating again and reportedly will be ready to join the Leafs by the end of the month. If I was a betting man, and I am, I'd put money on that not happening. He'll suffer a setback. He always does. Before he does return he'll likely join the Marlies for a conditioning stint, so I don't think he'll be with the Leafs until at least the new year.

People in this town love to hate on Bryan McCabe and his salary, but he's an important part of the Maple Leafs. He will definitely, and sorely, be missed. The Leafs know the drill by now. Someone has got to step up. It's practically this team's mantra.

Toronto is on a season-long seven game road trip (with a 1-1 record to show so far), and now have to finish it without one of their top defenceman. With solid play in the last two weeks the Leafs have managed to salvage their season but, without number 24 and his 30 minutes a game, the going just got a whole lot tougher...