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Toronto Maple Leafs Frazer McLaren celebrates his goal against Ottawa Senators during the first period of their NHL hockey game in Toronto February 16, 2013. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)
Toronto Maple Leafs Frazer McLaren celebrates his goal against Ottawa Senators during the first period of their NHL hockey game in Toronto February 16, 2013. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)

Carlyle’s trust in Leafs’ enforcers grows by the game Add to ...

Seventeen shifts.

And 12:51 in ice time.

For most of the 700-plus membership of the NHL, those numbers in an early season game wouldn’t be all that impressive.

For Colton Orr, the enforcer who played just five games in the league a year ago as he battled concussion problems and looked all but written off for the final year of his contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, those nearly 13 minutes were immeasurably big in Saturday night’s 3-0 win over the Ottawa Senators.

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This was Orr’s 394th career game and in it he received from coach Randy Carlyle the second most ice time of his career, playing on an odd-looking line with two small, skilled players in Nazem Kadri and Clarke MacArthur.

For most of that career, Orr has been expected to only sit and wait and fight, performing the dancing bear routine that appears to be dying out one NHL season only to come roaring back the next.

But Carlyle, who won a Stanley Cup on a fighter-loaded roster in Anaheim in 2007, has never wavered in loving his goons.

He believes, more than most, that their role matters, that their existence protects teammates and that, despite their obvious on-ice limitations when it comes to scoring, skating and the like, they belong in the lineup and on the ice.

It’s why Orr surprisingly made the team out of training camp. It also helps explain why journeyman defenceman Mark Fraser did, too, even though he’s since proven a capable third-pairing type.

And it’s definitely the reason Leafs GM Dave Nonis used a waiver claim on Frazer McLaren, who scored his second career goal in Saturday’s win by deftly deflecting in a puck while parked in front of the net.

That unlikely marker came just two games after Orr scored his 12th career goal in another Leafs win, putting the spotlight on the pugilists twice in a week.

Which Carlyle, of course, loved.

“I thought he gave us what we needed,” Carlyle said of Orr’s play on the third line, perhaps for the first time as a Leaf. “And it’s amazing how things quiet down when he’s out there.”

“I kind of knew that maybe I could run around there a little more,” Kadri added, chuckling. “Have a couple more hits. And no one really talked to me. Definitely his presence is felt out there. Guys know when he’s on the ice. I don’t know if you want to go in the same corner with that guy.”

McLaren’s goal, meanwhile, earned Carlyle’s golden star, reserved for those who pull off the kind of ugly goals in ugly areas he believes in above all else.

For a coach who calls playoff hockey “a man’s game,” those are the currency to buy more playing time.

“Go to the front of the net, funny things happen,” he quipped after the game.

Those improbable offensive contributions are likely to be limited; two lightning strikes spaced closely together in an unrepeatable pattern over the long term.

But on a team where Orr has played all 15 games and McLaren has sat just once since coming over on the waiver wire, the two goals will also encourage Carlyle to stick with his plan and play the punchers whenever he can.

Never mind that his team is badly out shot (roughly 30-19 per 60 minutes of even strength ice time, in Orr’s case, and even worse for McLaren) when the bears are on the ice or that not having a more defensively capable fourth line puts more strain on the likes of Mikhail Grabovski.

In the post Brian Burke era, this will be a team with truculence in the lineup, win or lose.

“It’s been nice to get rewarded, when you work hard,” Orr said quietly in the Leafs dressing room on Saturday night, when he was the last player to leave. “I’m just out there trying to make room for my linemates.

“You look at our team, and we’re built pretty tough all the way through..”

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

 

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