Two Speedsters Could Be Back Soon
Monday, 09.26.2011 / 6:32 PM ET / Mike Ulmer's Blog
By Mike Ulmer - Mapleleafs.com commentator
The Maple Leafs team speed is being goosed by the day.
Monday, Matt Lombardi and Mike Brown, two of the team’s quickest players took their paces in a contact scrimmage for the first time.
Fine, the contact was incidental but the presence of both players points to a quicker lineup when the Leafs open October 6 at home to Montreal.
Lombardi missed 80 games with a head injury last season. There is no timetable for a concussion, of course, but Lombardi’s trajectory might carry him to the Leafs within the next few weeks.
“I started slowly but it’s nice to get on the ice when the bumping starts happening,” he said.
“I got to push myself and try to catch up to where the other guys are.”
Lombardi only introduced light workouts into his itinerary this summer after hitting his head into the boards in his second game and it turned out final game with the Nashville Predators.
Because of his injury, he has always been something of an afterthought. The Leafs took Lombardi and a hefty contract to get their hands on six-foot-four rearguard Cody Franson, a rangy defenceman whose bomb from the point would fit nicely on the club’s second power play unit.
Franson hasn’t turned heads, good or bad, in the pre-season. But Lombardi has been subtly upping his output in each practice.
Where he fits is an intriguing question. Tim Connolly is still learning the ropes but he was imported to centre Phil Kessel so that will not change. Mikhail Grabovski centres the team’s best unit with Nikolai Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur.
Tyler Bozak has played with Colby Armstrong and Nazem Kadri. Kadri seems to have beaten back the competition from Matt Frattin so whoever slides onto that combination inherits plenty of smarts in Armstrong and terrific speed and flair in Kadri.
Leafs coach Ron Wilson will lean to breaking Lombardi in slowly, which might mean time on a mash-up line that will include Brown and either Colby Orr or Jay Rosehill.
“Coaches will always tell you that you never have enough speed up front,” said Ron Wilson. “Now we have to see if it gets physical can he still handle that.”
In his last full year, Lombardi scored 19 goals and registered 53 points for the Phoenix Coyotes.
Brown, meanwhile, was making his first appearance after groin surgery in the summer. He has been skating outside practice through camp.
“I can’t wait to go full out,” said Brown, “but no matter what I’m going to have pain with it. That’s what will make it better.”
Brown was hurt last season and played through the world championship. Missing half of training camp, he said, was enough and he hoped to get into at least one pre-season game.
Brown’s health is an issue. While only depended upon to work a dozen minutes most nights, Brown brings good speed to the fourth line. He can pressure on the forecheck and while his NHL high-water mark is six goals, he is a willing fighter who can contribute the odd bit of offence.
Notes: To underscore the competitive nature of the camp, Leafs coach Ron Wilson said Keith Aulie was in a fight to keep his job. That’s startling news considering Aulie played on the number one unit with Dion Phaneuf. “He’s got to keep himself grounded, keep going hard every day and not take anything for granted,” Wilson said. “He’s in a fight.” Aulie has looked fine in the pre-season but Wilson said stronger competition changes everything. The Leafs travel to Ottawa for Tuesday’s game against the Senators. They return home for two days of practice before their final two preseason games of the season, Friday in Detroit and Saturday at home against the Red Wings.