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Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Carl Gunnarsson. REUTERS/Mike Cassese (MIKE CASSESE)
Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Carl Gunnarsson. REUTERS/Mike Cassese (MIKE CASSESE)

Carl Gunnarsson slips in Maple Leafs' lineup Add to ...

He started the season on a surprising high, with a spot on the top defence pairing and big minutes alongside Dion Phaneuf.

But over the past handful of games, Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Carl Gunnarsson's minutes have been slipping, to the point that so far in December, he's behind four other blueliners with under 19 minutes a game.

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Gunnarsson averaged 22:18 in the first month of the season and 20:59 in November, but he's down to 18:37 this month and has had a few tough games of late.

He was at least partially to blame for the second and third goals against in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Devils last week and then was on the ice for three power play goals against in Washington in Friday's 4-2 loss.

Getting many of the minutes in his place have been Jake Gardiner and Luke Schenn, aged 21 and 22, as they have picked up their play and jumped into the team's top four.

Gunnarsson started the season going plus-5 in his first 12 games, but he has since slid to minus-3 on the year.

"Sometimes, it's ups and downs," Gunnarsson said. "You've just got to try to get out of it."

Leafs coach Ron Wilson said he didn't believe Gunnarsson's play had tailed off, saying only that he wanted to turn to Gardiner and Cody Franson more on the power play, which meant dialing others' minutes back with the man advantage.

"I think it's the fact that Gardiner's played so well," Wilson said. "Now we're starting to see Cody play pretty good, too.

"Cody and Gardsy are going on the second unit of the power play and that's where you lose three, four minutes of a game right there. You lose some power play time because the other guys are a bit better at it. I don't think Gunnar's really struggling."

Part of what may be making life a little more difficult for Gunnarsson is the fact he's got a mangled ring finger on his left hand.

He is wearing a special glove that has the ring and middle finger attached using a piece of protective black plastic. While he said it's not a big deal to play with, it's also clear he hasn't been shooting the puck much of late (and as a result, wouldn't be very valuable on the PP).

"It'll be a while till it gets to 100 per cent," he admitted.

Notebook

- Speaking of Gardiner, he's averaging 23:30 minutes a game in December so far, second highest on the team. Pretty hard to believe given few thought he'd make the team.

- No word from Wilson on who will start in goal, but I'd be surprise not to see James Reimer face the Hurricanes on Tuesday. The Leafs have back-to-back games on the weekend so both goaltenders will be getting work then anyway. "I have it in my mind who's going to play tomorrow night," Wilson said. "Beyond that, I haven't decided."

- Practice was a long one on Monday, with much of the time spent on penalty killing after the Leafs allowed four goals when down a man in their loss to the Capitals on Friday. Wilson was asked what they're working on, specifically: "Pressure. Where our sticks are. It's hard to work on shot blocking in practice for obvious reasons, but we're constantly harping about being in the shooting lanes. We need better clears."

- Wilson on Joey Crabb taking a few bad penalties last game: "It better be out of character. If it's part of his character, he won't be playing much. Hopefully he's learned his lesson. It happened once; I don't expect it to happen again."

- Wilson provided a brief update on the injured, saying Matt Lombardi (dislocated shoulder) and Mike Komisarek (broken arm) will both be out until after Christmas. Mike Brown has to wait six weeks after back surgery, leaving him with roughly a month to go.

Leafs projected lineup

Lupul - Bozak - Kessel MacArthur - Connolly - Armstrong Frattin - Grabovski - Kulemin Crabb - Steckel - Dupuis

Gunnarsson - Phaneuf Gardiner - Schenn Liles - Franson

Reimer Gustavsson



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