TORONTO – Joffrey Lupul didn’t come off the ice slamming his stick this time.
That’s what he did a day earlier, however, in a show of frustration with the groin injury he’s dealing with. From one day to the next, the Toronto Maple Leafs winger doesn’t know exactly how much progress to expect when he tries to skate.
“It’s frustrating,” Lupul said Thursday morning. “I feel like I’m getting closer, but at this point I can’t risk re-aggravating or anything. … You don’t want to have any days where you go back from whatever 80 per cent to 60 per cent, that’s not good.”
Lupul will miss his fifth straight game when the Leafs host the Dallas Stars at Air Canada Centre. He hasn’t played since Nov. 25 and there’s no official time frame on his return to the lineup.
Though he didn’t rule out playing Saturday at the Ottawa Senators, Lupul didn’t sound too optimistic about that possibility.
“It’s too hard to say right now,” he said. “Certainly there’s some improvements that need to be made first.”
Groin injuries aren’t ones that players can just power through because they involve the muscles needed to skate. Lupul would be ineffective he if returned too soon and would risk aggravating the problem.
“A muscle tear’s a bit of a frustrating injury,” Lupul said. “It’s actually the first time I’ve ever had something like this. But you don’t want to put yourself ahead of the team and come back and then the team loses you for another couple weeks and then you’ve really dug yourself and the team a hole.
“It’s important just to take it a day at a time, and the training staff’s been great. We’re strengthening it and I’m not going to come back before I’m at a position where I can help the team, not only for that game but going forward.”
The Leafs could use him sooner rather than later. Coach Randy Carlyle began his news conference by running down his team’s injuries, saying that Phil Kessel will play against Dallas, Tyler Bozak was out “an extended period of time” with an oblique strain and Colton Orr underwent a procedure to fix a bursa-sac issue in his elbow.
Insisting he wanted to talk about the players who were in his lineup, Carlyle chafed at a question about Lupul.
“I just said we were going to talk about people that are in the lineup versus people that are out of the lineup, and which word didn’t you guys understand?” he asked pointedly.
Then Carlyle obliged in general terms about Lupul’s road back.
“We treat every player basically the same … we take him medically to a point where he indicates to our medical people that the time frame that has been put in place has elapsed, the player practises with our hockey club and then ultimately he says when he’s available to us, that he can play,” he said. “That’s his decision. The time frame and the medical people do their job, and then it’s up to the individual player to say, ‘Yes I can play.’ “
Lupul hasn’t said that yet. But he’s not sure he would need more than one practice with teammates before jumping back in.
“It’s just basically the trainers and I taking it one step at a time,” the 30-year-old said. “I’ve been practising for a couple days, maybe not the whole practice, but I think we’re building some strength back up each day. I’d like to think we’re moving in the right direction.”
Even though Lupul is fifth on the team with 15 points despite playing in just 22 games, the direction of his return won’t be dictated by the Leafs’ success or lack thereof.
“You can’t let that change your mind-set and how you’re planning to come back from the injury,” Lupul said. “That’s, I guess, where a little bit of the frustration lies.”
Follow Stephen Whyno on Twitter at @SWhyno.