TAMPA — Randy Carlyle ended his scrum with reporters on Wednesday the same way he started it.
The Maple Leafs coach can’t be convinced that Tampa Bay Lightning star Steven Stamkos will not return from a broken leg on Thursday when the Leafs and Lightning hook up at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
“I would suspect there is a strong possibility we will see another player versus what we did not see in Toronto (when the Leafs and Lightning met last week),” Carlyle said after the Leafs practised.
Earlier, Carlyle said about Stamkos: “They say Saturday, but if he is cleared medically by the doctors, there is always that bullet in their holster to use as motivation.”
Stamkos has been out since Nov. 11, when he suffered the injury against the Boston Bruins. Stamkos has said he wants to play in at least one game before he heads to Sochi to suit up for Canada in the Winter Olympics, and he has targeted Tampa’s game against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday. Of course, Stamkos would play against Wings coach Mike Babcock, who will be his coach in Russia.
Stamkos was due to have tests on Wednesday and a meeting with doctors.
The Lightning players had Wednesday off after they arrived home in the small hours of the morning following a loss in Minnesota against the Wild.
Speaking of the Olympics, it’s looking more like Leafs centre Dave Bolland will not return to the lineup until they are done.
Bolland continues to skate as he recovers from a lacerated tendon in his ankle, but was not on a set line on Wednesday.
“Things are progressing, not as quickly as I wished they were, but things are progressing,” Bolland said.
“I wish I could get on the ice (in a game), but it’s about getting my ankle better and getting my tendon better and getting stronger. It’s making sure I can handle the 20-odd games we have left instead of 10 or so.”
Bolland said “we’ll see” when asked whether he could play on Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks in the Leafs’ final pre-Olympic game, but he’s a long shot at best.
“You feel pain, you feel stress,” Bolland said of his ankle. “You cut a tendon, so it went right through the muscle, right through the tendon, everything, almost to the bone. So you are going to feel pain, it is going to be like that for the rest of this year and maybe some of the summer.”
His biggest limitation?
“It’s crossing over and getting on that ankle, putting weight on it,” Bolland said. “That is the biggest thing, is the transition in the game, going down on the 3-on-2 and puck gets poked off your stick, it’s that quick transition of turning on a dime and getting back.”
Bolland will skate with his former junior team, the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights, during the break.
The Leafs turned in perhaps their worst game of the season on Tuesday, losing 4-1 in Sunrise against the Florida Panthers.
There were no new line combinations during practice, and it’s likely that goalie Jonathan Bernier will start again after making 44 saves against the Panthers.
Forward Troy Bodie required stitches after suffering a gash on his forehead during the workout.
The Leafs are 10-12-5 away from the Air Canada Centre, and 13 of their 22 games after the Olympics are on the road.
“We have not played well enough on the road,” Carlyle said. “It is not easy to win on the road and it is not easy to win in the NHL. The one issue for us is we have had too many lacklustre games where we don’t seem to be involved in the game to the level that is required to get points.
“I don’t want to (dwell) on last night, but it is a taste you just can’t wash out of your mouth.”
TAMPA — Randy Carlyle ended his scrum with reporters on Wednesday the same way he started it.
SUNRISE, Fla. — David Clarkson will hit the reset button again on Tuesday night.
But with the Maple Leafs forward set to return to the lineup after missing the past eight games with an elbow injury, coach Randy Carlyle had some advice after the Leafs’ morning skate at the BB&T Center.
“I don’t want to put too much emphasis on Clarkson, after a player is coming back into your lineup when missing en extended period of time,” Carlyle said. “I think it is more suited to just let the player get his feet under him before we make these great proclamations on what he is doing to do, where he is going to be at.”
While Carlyle said Clarkson’s participation would be a coach’s decision, the player said he was ready to go against the Florida Panthers.
“It’s going to be good to get playing again,” Clarkson said. “It has been a tough year but I am excited to get back in tonight.”
Clarkson has three goals and five assists in 36 games. To say he has not lived up to expectations after signing a seven-year, $36.75-million US contract last July would be an understatement. And it doesn’t help that the Leafs have been more successful without Clarkson than they have been with him.
A 10-game suspension to start the season, another two-game suspension and foot trouble on top of his elbow woes have conspired to make his first Leafs season a difficult one. But it’s time to put the excuses in the garbage.
Clarkson has to be better, and he knows it.
“I have had a chance to hit that (reset) button a couple of times,” Clarkson said. “I’m hoping. I’m someone who tries to stay positive. There have been a lot of little injuries and suspensions and I have not been healthy to much at all.
“But everybody goes through it and it’s how you come out at the end and I am looking forward to finishing strong.”
Clarkson skated on a line with centre Jay McClement and winger Mason Raymond.
Based on the morning skate, it appeared winger Troy Bodie will be a healthy scratch. Dave Bolland (ankle) also skated.
James van Riemsdyk, who was battling the flu, caught a flight out of Toronto on Tuesday morning and joined his teammates.
“I feel better today,” van Riemsdyk said. “It was an early morning but I am happy to be here.”
Leafs forwards Carter Ashton (hand) and Peter Holland (foot) did not make the trip. They will be evaluated on Tuesday and could join the team, Carlyle said.
Jonathan Bernier will start in goal for the Leafs, who have won nine of their past 11 games. Tim Thomas will be in net for the Panthers.
Florida, losers of three in a row, know it has to be on its toes against the Leafs.
Last Thursday at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, the Panthers had a 2-0 lead on the Leafs in the first period but lost 6-3.
“We have to understand you can’t just start great and expect to win games,” Panthers defenceman Tom Gilbert said. “Toronto has been scoring a lot of goals. They have forwards with speed, forwards who can shoot the puck and create plays. For us, we have to manage the puck, know situations and always be prepared that this team is very explosive. They can score at any time.”
Phil Kessel departed Maple Leafs practice on Monday at the MasterCard Centre.
Kessel, the Leafs’ most dangerous forward, returned after 20 minutes.
Then, linemate James van Riemsdyk disappeared into the dressing room, and did not return.
But coach Randy Carlyle didn’t so much as raise an eyebrow, no matter that two-thirds of his best line are nursing minor ailments.
“I have been told they are both available tomorrow night (when the Tampa Bay Lightning visit the Leafs),” Carlyle said. “Players have various bumps and bruises, muscle strains, we have people with taped elbows and wrists and ankles. Those things happen over the course of the season.
“I hope you don’t read to much into both of them (missing part of practice) … we would rather have both of them made available tomorrow versus skating in a full practice today.”
Kessel has had wrist issues this season and had lower-body trouble on Monday. For van Riemsdyk, a lower-body problem also forced him to leave.
“It’s not like we don’t worry about it, but that information was made available before practice that they might only participate in part of it,” Carlyle said. “That is why I am telling the truth, but it does not seem like you want to listen.”
Okay, we get it.
Dave Bolland skated for approximately 25 minutes before practice, and then stayed on for a while with his teammates. But there remains no time line for his return from a lacerated tendon in his ankle.
Trevor Smith, out since Dec. 17 with a broken hand, practised and will visit with club doctors on Tuesday. Smith indicated he is just days away from being back in the lineup.
The Leafs undoubtedly will have their hands full with the Lightning, which has won three in a row and is in third place in the Eastern Conference with 67 points, seven ahead of the Leafs.
Steven Stamkos will join his teammates on the trip as he continues to recover from a broken right leg.
But Martin St. Louis? He has had at least one point in all 10 Tampa games since he learned he would not be playing for Canada in the Olympics in Sochi.
The 38-year-old has eight goals and six assists in that span.
“He seems to be getting better with age,” Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said. “He has a lot of experience, has played a lot of games in the league, and from what I have heard he just keeps pushing himself off the ice to keep getting better.
“It’s not simple to take the body on him. He is a guy who is very shifty. Strong on his feet and he knows how to roll off guys. You have to be hard on him when you can, but you also have to be measured in the sense that you can’t run at him and not take the right angle because he will make you pay.”
In 49 career games against the Leafs, St. Louis has 50 points (18 goals and 32 assists).
WINNIPEG — Paul Maurice wishes the Maple Leafs had trounced the Dallas Stars on Thursday night.
Instead, the Leafs had a six-game winning streak snapped when they fell 7-1 in Dallas.
“We’re not expecting any residual (effects),” Maurice, the coach of the Winnipeg Jets, said on Saturday following his team’s morning skate at the MTS Centre.
“I would prefer they had won 7-1 because they would be coming in here fat and happy. But they are not. They are going to be ready to play.”
The Leafs (27-21-5) who will finish a four-game trip, did not hold a morning skate. Manitoba native James Reimer will start in goal against the Jets, while coach Randy Carlyle had hinted on Friday that there could be a change on the blue line. Neither Paul Ranger nor Mark Fraser has been in the lineup much in recent weeks.
It will be a homecoming of sorts for Reimer and several teammates. Carter Ashton, Colton Orr, Troy Bodie and Frazer McLaren also hail from the province. McLaren, who practised for the first time on Friday after missing five games with a bruised shoulder, has not been activated off injured reserve.
The Jets (23-24-5) have been no slouches under Maurice, winning their first four games before a 1-0 loss in San Jose versus the Sharks on Thursday night. The players see Maurice, who coached the Leafs from 2006-08, as a confident coach, and that has seeped into the way they are approaching games now.
“He is trying to get our team skating and that is what we do well,” Jets forward Blake Wheeler said. “We’re a good skating team. He has tried to get us moving, working hard to get back defensively.
“Confidence is a huge part of this game, a part that nobody understands unless you have played in the NHL.”
Goalie Ondrej Pavelec will start in the Jets net. Winnipeg rookie centre Mark Scheifele leads all freshmen with 19 assists.
The game will be a matchup of two of the youngest teams in the NHL, as the Jets’ average age is 26.6 years and the Leafs are at 27.0 years.
For Carlyle, it’s another return to the city where he starred for the Jets as a player and later earned his coaching chops with Manitoba of the International Hockey League and then in the American Hockey League.
Carlyle began his head coaching career with Manitoba Moose in the IHL in 1996-97.
“Hockey blood runs through the province, I can tell you that,” Carlyle said. “I enjoy coming back here. I come back in the summer and go fishing with my friends, but coming back to a work environment is different.”
If all goes according to plan tonight in Denver, the Leafs could have a special visitor in their dressing room following the game against the Colorado Avalanche.
And what a big guest at that.
The guest would be none other than Toronto’s own Orlando Franklin, a mammoth offensive lineman for the Super Bowl-bound Denver Broncos and a big Leafs fan to boot. Over the years Franklin, who had a superb game in Sunday’s AFC Championship win over the New England Patriots, has become friends with some Leafs players, most notably centre Tyler Bozak.
Bozak is well familiar with the sporting scene in the Mile High City having played NCAA hockey at the University of Denver.
Following Monday’s win in Phoenix, Franklin responded to a Bozak tweet by saying “I’m going to the game, bud.” Later, Bozak suggested his big-bodied pal meet following the game in which the Leafs will be seeking a sixth consecutive victory.
Franklin told us last year that he’s a big Leafs fan and that during the off-season he tries to get to as many games at the Air Canada Centre as possible. Tonight, he’ll take a break from his Super Bowl preparations to do the same thing in his own back yard.