Skip to main content

Tucker and Wellwood still not ready to return to Leafs' lineup

They've been solid contributors since being summoned from the AHL farm team because of a horde of injuries, and head coach Paul Maurice needs them to keep it up because none of the walking wounded are ready to return. The speed of Newbury and Devereaux has pleased Maurice, who has always liked the grit with which Ondrus plays.

"Kris is quicker and stronger," Maurice says, comparing the Newbury of today to the Toronto Marlies player he coached last year.

"Newbury and Ondrus, you don't ever have to tell them when they come to the bench, 'You should have finished that check,"' Maurice said Friday. "Sometimes you might pull them aside and say, 'You better slow down going in there because you're going to be going to the box.'

"They're fighting every shift."

They're certainly added spunk to the Leafs.

"Newbie is starting to yip a little bit on the bench," said Maurice. "Benny never says more than 10 words a season. He just stares at you and drops his gloves."

The Leafs, buoyed by a 4-2 win Buffalo on Thursday, play the visiting Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night (7 p.m. ET) before flying to Florida where they'll play the Lightning on Tuesday and the Panthers on Thursday.

The only forward nearly ready to return is Alexei Ponikarovsky. The shoulder he hurt is better, but Maurice doubts he'll skate against the Canucks.

"He'd be closest, he'd be the first one in," said Maurice. "Darcy Tucker is the next one in.

"I'm not confident that any of the others would be in before Saturday's game in Pittsburgh. Kyle Wellwood, I'm not expecting."

Neither Tucker, who has a cracked foot bone, nor Wellwood, out with a strained groin muscle, will be on the Sunday flight south.

"It feels better but I still have some discomfort so we'll take it day by day from here on in," said Tucker.

Travis Green was plucked off waivers from the Anaheim Ducks to add penalty-killing and faceoff prowess lost when Mike Peca broke his leg. Green played in Buffalo.

"It's like deja vu," Green said during his first day in the Leafs' Air Canada Centre dressing room since being let go by the team in October 2003.

There's been no indication when Nik Antropov, out since Dec. 6 with a sprained ankle, will be ready. Defencemen Andy Wozniewski and Ian White, both rehabbing shoulder injuries, each need at least another two weeks.

Regardless of who he has in the lineup, Maurice figures rabid puck pursuit is the way to win. It worked in Buffalo.

"We played a style of game that I think we can compete and win with regardless of our injury status," he said. "That's the game that we want to play every night.

"It's difficult to do that, but that has to be our goal."

The Leafs did one of their best checking jobs of the season on the Sabres.

"We've played better defensively for a stretch now," said Maurice. "Five-on-five, we've become a better defensive team.

"To beat that team in the situation we're in in the manner that we did really gave our guys a boost and lifted our confidence level."

Alex Steen is thriving on the top line with Mats Sundin and Jeff O'Neill.

"We've started to find each other," Steen says of the brewing chemistry. "We're having a lot of fun out there. We need to keep it going."

Bryan McCabe's shift to the left defence position appears to have helped his game. He's been paired with Carlo Colaiacovo of late.

"Bryan, since he's been moved back to his left side, has played incredibly well for us defensively," said Maurice.

The Canucks rose to the top of the Northwest Division earlier this week but had a setback in losing 5-2 at home to Minnesota on Thursday.

"They're similar to Boston in some of the technical things they do," said Maurice. "They work really hard and they get great goaltending so this is not going to be, I don't think, a free-flowing, up and down the ice affair.

"The challenge for us is to find a way to hate them enough before the puck drops that we can play them like they're the Buffalo Sabres."

Maurice revealed that the coaches seriously debated using a left-wing trap defensive system about a month ago.

"There were two reasons that we didn't," he explained. "One, if you're going to play that game, I think you have to be a little more defensive-minded as a player.

"I don't think, going down our list, there are more than three or four guys who got to the NHL playing a defensive game, that were checking specialists. I don't think we're built to sit back in somewhat of a passive game.

"Secondly, it's not the game I believe you win with. Part of our job this year, if we don't win the Cup, is to put ourselves in a better position to do that - to put the footprint down."

The attack-oriented approach, also used by previous head coach Pat Quinn, is the style that wins in today's NHL, said Maurice.

"We have to be aggressive in developing that mentality."


Connor Bedard

NHL Sour Rankings: Bedard’s Fit Among the NHL’s Bottom Feeders

How could Connor Bedard fit into each roster of the NHL's current worst teams?

Gary Bettman

Bluelines: Gary Bettman Approaches 30 Years as NHL Commissioner

Stan Fischler shares his thoughts on Gary Bettman ahead of his 30th anniversary of becoming the NHL commissioner on Feb. 1.

Jason Polin

Real Prospect Gossip: NCAA Free Agents and the Top U-16s

Western Michigan's Jason Polin is emerging as the front-runner while the next generation of OHL stars took center stage in Toronto.