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Few Changes For Leafs In Preparation For Sens

Friday, 10.7.2011 / 2:58 PM ET / Mike Ulmer's Blog
By Mike Ulmer  - Mapleleafs.com commentator
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Few Changes For Leafs In Preparation For Sens

David Steckel was talking about faceoffs after Leafs practice Friday.

“It’s all five guys on the ice,” he was saying.

Could have fooled me. In his Leafs debut on Thursday, Steckel won some draws so cleanly the puck was often dry when it found a winger’s stick.

But Steckel, fresh off a 72 per cent night performance, was adamant and he has a point. In the Leafs 2-0 win over Montreal on Thursday, Steckel took a number of draws with his new linemates: Colby Armstrong and Philippe Dupuis. Steckel‘s mastery in the circle infused the Leafs historically poor penalty killing with a new confidence and the unit killed off all five Montreal man advantages.

But he had some help.

“If you have great winners you are going to win more draws,” Steckel said. “If you have good defence, they are going to block off more guys at the wall and you are going to win more draws than not.”

Dupuis and Armstrong are both well-weathered pros and while Steckel is mesmerizing, their job is not to watch.

“They have to get in there and win the secondary battles,” said Leafs coach Ron Wilson. “In the event of a draw or a tie and the puck is behind their centreman or yours, they have to be able to push it to a defenceman or to a quiet area where we can recover the puck.”

“You’ve got to be on your toes,” Dupuis said. “As soon as the puck drops, if he is going for a tie-up you have to jump in and help him out. That’s a big part of it for the winger but most of the draws he won clean so he is pretty solid all around.”

For one more week at least, Leafs coach Ron Wilson is likely to keep the unit together. Clarke MacArthur has one more game to serve on his suspension. After facing the Senators on Saturday, the Leafs are idle until they entertain Calgary a week later. When MacArthur comes back he will no doubt go back to his spot beside Mikael Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin. That means fill-in Matt Frattin will likely bump down a unit, especially if Frattin delivers the kind of solid performance he showed in the Montreal game.

Until then, so far so good.

“We have room to improve but with Stecks’ size and Dupe’s speed and tenacious forechecking, we can create a lot of havoc down low and in the face-off circle,” Armstrong said.

Like Steckel, Dupuis has spent most of his career in the middle.

Armstrong played centre in junior. All three are experienced in working as their line’s linchpin, offensively and on the defensive zone.

“I like to think I’m a pretty smart player so when you are playing with guys like that they communicate well and that makes it a whole lot easier,” Steckel said. “Especially if they are new linemates.”

Briefly: Tim Connolly’s upper body injury will keep him out of the Ottawa game. With a week between games, the Leafs would be foolish to bring him back at something less than 100 per cent. “Another week and he should be ready to go,” Wilson said. Tyler Bozak filled in for Connolly nicely on Thursday. MacArthur was covered with sweat when he reached his locker stall. He can practice but Frattin is necessarily taking reps in his spot. That leaves wind sprints and endurance drills after practice. At least MacArthur isn’t alone. Connolly kept him company throughout… Colton Orr will dress and play on the Leafs fourth line with Matt Lombardi and Mike Brown on Saturday. Jay Rosehill will sit in his place… Wilson said he has never used a player to win defensive draws and scamper back to the bench before the Leafs gifted him with Steckel.

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