TORONTO – A new goaltender making his home-ice debut and an injury-depleted defence corps.
That’s not the traditional recipe for success – and it didn’t work for the Toronto Maple Leafs against the visiting Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night. The Leafs, with waiver-wire pickup Martin Gerber making his second consecutive start, fell 4-1 to Edmonton and lost defencemen Mike Van Ryn and Jonas Frogren in the process – in the first period, no less.
The Leafs said both defencemen had “lower-body injuries” and indicated that they could be sidelined for a week or more. Van Ryn’s injury, especially, could be long-term.
“It’s a lower-body injury and he’ll be out a while,” said Leafs coach Ron Wilson. “It wasn’t good.”
Van Ryn, 29, has suffered through an injury-plagued campaign in 2008-09; he previously missed stretches of nine, 13 and 16 games and has appeared in just 27 of Toronto’s 67 games this season. It’s his first season with the Leafs after splitting six years between St. Louis and Florida.
“I haven’t seen so many bad-luck injuries like the ones (Van Ryn) has had this season,” said Leafs centre Matt Stajan. “Hopefully, it’s not too bad. He’s been a big part of our defence corps this season.”
Van Ryn was injured about a minute-and-a-half into the game when he got tangled up with Oilers winger Marc-Antoine Pouliot near the boards in Toronto’s defensive zone. He was helped off the ice by teammates, and appeared to be favouring his left leg.
“I haven’t seen him yet, but I heard it was pretty black-and-blue,” said Ian White, one of the four Leafs defenceman who made it through the entire game.
Frogren, meanwhile, was hurt midway through the first period when Pouliot, again, appeared to fall on his left leg. Frogren, a first-year NHLer at 28 years old, had just 3:27 in ice time in the game, but that was plenty more than Van Ryn’s 42 seconds.
“I’m pretty tired, but we did a good job of managing the minutes,” said White, who led the Leafs in ice time with a personal-best 30:59. “I thought the ‘D’ played really well as a group. We couldn’t be too aggressive, we had to play it safe and only jump up into the play if it was a good opportunity.”
Pavel Kubina (27:38), rookie Luke Schenn (27:37) and Jeff Finger (25:56) were the other Leafs defencemen in the lineup against Edmonton.
“You have to step up when guys go down,” White said.
With Tomas Kaberle and newly acquired Erik Reitz also on the sidelines – both are likely to remain out another week – the last thing the Leafs could afford was another round of blue-line injuries.
“We’ll have to play with a bunch of call-ups for a week or 10 days,” Wilson said.
The first players likely to be recalled from the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies, the Leafs’ affiliate, are Anton Stralman and Jaime Sifers. Stralman has played 29 games with the Leafs this season; Sifers 23.
Gerber, meanwhile, is likely to remain busy in the Leafs’ net. Vesa Toskala has been shut down for the season and is expected to undergo surgery on his hip and groin, so Gerber – picked up on waivers from provincial rival Ottawa Senators – should get the majority of the starts. In his debut on Thursday, he beat the host Washington Capitals 2-1.
He’ll be backed up by veteran Curtis Joseph, while prospect Justin Pogge might get another spot start or two.
For now, Gerber is appreciative of the players in front of him, even if they were a little short-staffed.
“They did a great job, getting in the shooting lanes, blocking shots,” he said of White, Kubina, Schenn and Finger. “They did a good job in the defensive zone.”
Besides, if more Leafs defecemen get hurt, Toronto claims to have a secret weapon.
“They had Boyd Devereaux ready to step in,” said White with a smile, referring to the veteran winger who recently was recalled from the Marlies.
“Whoever can skate backwards the best, I guess.”