According to Ron Wilson, Colby Armstrong is his team’s lucky charm.
No matter Armstrong usually averages 15 minutes a game – with a chunk of that on the penalty kill – or that he has only eight goals in 55 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The numbers say Toronto wins when he’s dressed – and that’s enough for the head coach.
“All you have to do is look at our record with Colby in the lineup,” Wilson is fond of saying, going back to last season, in reference to Toronto’s 29-19-7 mark with Armstrong healthy.
And there’s about to be good news on that front.
The Leafs’ rabbit’s foot is expected to be back when his team faces the Washington Capitals on Friday, playing for only the sixth time this NHL season after suffering a bad high ankle sprain on Oct. 19.
“There’s a really good chance,” Wilson said of Armstrong’s possible return.
Speaking prior to Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils, Armstrong was almost apologetic about missing exactly half of the 110 games since signing as a free agent in 2010.
“I’ve kind of had some bad luck,” the right winger said. “I just rely on the fact I play a certain style and, hopefully, people respect that.
“Sometimes, some crazy things can happen when you play hard and go to hard areas [on the ice] … Hopefully, I can put it all behind me.”
Even with being injured so often, Armstrong has quickly become one of the most popular Leafs players with both teammates and the media.
An alternate captain, he is, at 29, one of the oldest players on the team, but rarely seems to act his age in taking on the dressing room’s practical joker role.
Making $3-million (U.S.) a season to play on the third line, Armstrong was never expected to be a prolific scorer. But if he can duplicate the almost 40-point full-season pace he was on ion 2010-11, it will be a welcome addition to a group of bottom-six forwards that hasn’t produced a lot of offence to date.
More importantly, Armstrong’s return will be a sign Toronto’s run of injuries is beginning to end.
While the Leafs haven’t had many top players out this season, they have lost 99 man-games to injury (after adding five more in Tuesday’s game), putting them on pace for 290 on the year.
A year ago, Toronto was remarkably healthy with only 184 games lost to injury all season – and 20 per cent of those were due to enforcer Colton Orr missing half the campaign with a concussion.
All the injuries early on have meant the Leafs have had five or six bodies in the press box on some nights, with Armstrong becoming the most regular player analyst from above. He said he’s enjoyed watching his team go 15-10-3 to open the season.
“It’s a lot different watching our team this year than last year, when our record’s a lot better,” Armstrong said. “The team’s a lot better, consistently better every night.
“Makes it easier watching that way. But, at the same time, it’s tough to sit back and not be a part of it.”
Man games lost for the Canadian-based NHL teams (numbers are prior to team’s most recent game)
1. Montreal Canadiens: 141 2. Winnipeg Jets: 132 3. Edmonton Oilers: 96 4. Toronto Maple Leafs: 94 5. Ottawa Senators: 83 6. Calgary Flames: 78 7. Vancouver Canucks: 78
LEAFS’ INJURY WARD Colby Armstrong, 23 games, ankle James Reimer, 18 games, head Tim Connolly, 12 games, shoulder Mike Brown, 10 games, groin/back Mike Komisarek, nine games, broken arm Matt Lombardi, nine games, dislocated shoulder Clarke MacArthur, five games, upper body Mikhail Grabovski, five games, lower body Others, eight games