Leafs’ Busy Stretch Takes Off With Jets
Tuesday, 18.10.2011 / 4:59 PM
The Maple Leafs hit the ice at MasterCard Centre Tuesday prior to welcoming the born-again Winnipeg Jets to Air Canada Centre on Wednesday.
It was a light-hearted practice with the team set to begin a four games in six-nights stretch with the matchup with the newest Canadian team.
The increase in game action this week, will likely see Jonas Gustavsson make his 2011-12 regular-season debut either tomorrow night against the Jets or Thursday in Boston. Gustavsson wasn’t sure when he would start but he has done his best to stay sharp.
“You just have to practice hard and do well in practice to get some confidence to go out there and play in a game,” he said.
Gustavsson last played on September 30th in Detroit which was almost three weeks ago.
What will be the biggest adjustment when he does start?
“The speed,” he said.
With the Jets making their first trip to Air Canada Centre, head coach Ron Wilson was asked if he had a favourite memory of the Jets franchise.
“I was in the building when Teemu Selanne set the rookie record for goals. I thought it was pretty cool at the time (Selanne’s shooting the glove in the air celebration),” Wilson said.
That led to this humours exchange on if Wilson knew who caught Selanne’s glove:
Reporter: “Dallas Eakins?”
Wilson: “What was Dallas Eakins doing on the ice?”
One player who has been logging lots of minutes in the early going is Carl Gunnarsson. The blueliner is playing on the top pairing with Dion Phaneuf and they have found instant chemistry.
“We hadn’t really played much before this but every game there are things that we try to get better at and I think it has been great,” Gunnarsson said.
Entering action Wednesday, Gunnarsson is second on the team in ice-time averaging 22:25 a game and he is third on the team in plus/minus at + four.
Gunnarsson had slow starts in his first two NHL training camps but from the moment camp opened this season he has been a different player.
“Last year I think I was over-thinking and this year I just came in and wanted to have fun and play my own game,” he said.
Not only is he playing a regular shift, he is on the ice in all situations with the coaching staff showing a great deal of confidence in him.
“It’s great knowing that even if you make a mistake here or there it’s fine because you are going to get back out there,” he said.
Another player that the coaches have been pleased with is rookie Matt Frattin who is still looking for his first NHL point.
“He’s hit the post a number of times and he has had a number of scoring chances, next to Phil probably the most on the team,” Wilson acknowledged.
In the loss on Monday, Frattin hit the post on one rush and he also made a clever little play that showed his confidence level and NHL awareness continue to rise.
“The last few games I’ve been shooting and the d-man usually gets their stick on it and so I tried to fake the shot and put it over his stick,” he said.
If Frattin continues to play well and the Leafs are looking for goal scoring, don’t be surprised to see the Edmonton native bumped up to another line.
“I don’t think there is anything wrong with giving a jolt and a pat on the back to Frats to play a more offensive role,” Wilson said.
Notes: Tim Connolly took part in the full practice Tuesday wearing a green sweater. Wilson was asked if Connolly would be back for the road trip: “I’m not really sure. He would be a nice addition to get in there and it would change the whole dynamic of our entire lineup once he is healthy and ready to go.”
Wilson on Nazem Kadri’s status for the trip: “He won’t be playing on the road trip.” On the power play, look for the Leafs to use Joffrey Lupul in front of the net: “He has really good hands, good hand-eye coordination and it’s a matter of getting the puck through,” Wilson said.