TORONTO – The Toronto Maple Leafs are making some lineup changes to try to take advantage of the tired New York Rangers.
Kris Versteeg pronounced himself fit after missing Thursday’s game with a sore back while Christian Hanson was recalled from the AHL Marlies on Saturday.
Coach Ron Wilson planned to insert the six-foot-four, 220-pound centre directly into the lineup against a Rangers team that is coming off a 4-3 loss Friday to Carolina.
“(He adds) a little more size, he brings speed too,” said Wilson. “We want to, if we can, wear the Rangers down. This will be their third game in four nights, and back to back. …
“We want to (play at a high pace) early and try to wear them down.”
Wilson wouldn’t say who Versteeg and Hanson would replace in the lineup. The most likely candidates are Mike Zigomanis and John Mitchell.
Hanson was one of Toronto’s final cuts out of training camp and general manager Brian Burke indicated at the time he probably deserved to make the team. The 24-year-old has focused on trying to make improvements in some of the areas that were mentioned when he was cut.
“They want me to play a little more tenacious, a little more physical role,” said Hanson. “I’m taking faceoffs, playing centre now, I’ve got to bear down and win 50 to 55 per cent of those.”
His time with the big club sounds like it might be short-lived.
“We just want to get bigger tonight and Christian’s the biggest player we have down there,” said Wilson.
Versteeg has been battling a sore back recently and had an MRI Friday to confirm there’s no structural damage, according to Wilson. With his mind at ease, the winger will be back in his spot on the second line with Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur.
He wouldn’t say if it’s an issue that has plagued him in the past.
“I guess that’s going to have to be between me and the boys back there,” said Versteeg. “I feel good right now. This is something that you know you’re going to have to fight through and do what you can to help the team.”
The Leafs have struggled offensively during a recent 1-3-1 stretch. They’ve scored seven goals during those five games.
“Obviously we’re creating our chances and it hasn’t been quite going in,” said Versteeg. “We were getting goals in the first three or four games. Then when you don’t get goals for three or four games the fire bells go off.”
The Leafs and Rangers will be facing one another for the third time in two weeks. Toronto won 4-3 at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 15 while the Rangers pulled out a 2-1 victory at Air Canada Centre on Oct. 21.