It’s hard to say just what sort of reaction Tim Connolly will get when he returns to Buffalo on Friday for the first time since joining the hated Toronto Maple Leafs.
There may be more than the usual several thousand Leaf fans in the building because it’s a weekend night, so maybe the Buffalo Sabres faithful won’t be able to make themselves heard. But there is no doubt there are some hard feelings, since the oft-injured Connolly was worked over regularly in the final months of his eight NHL seasons with the Sabres.
“It should be a great atmosphere. There’s always a lot of Leaf fans there,” was about all Connolly was willing to say Wednesday about what he expects, other than, “It should be interesting.”
Connolly’s wonky injury history drove Buffalo fans wild. After recovering from a serious concussion he sustained during the 2006 playoffs that kept him out until the final two games of the 2006-07 season, Connolly was never able to play a full season in his last four in Buffalo. He never had another concussion but he suffered a string of odd injuries often as the result of bad luck. By the end, when he produced just 42 points in 68 games in 2010-11, the fans were all over him and Sabres management seemed just as sour, although no one wanted to say so out loud.
After signing as a free agent with the Leafs last summer, Connolly’s luck stayed the same. A couple of shoulder injuries limited him to 18 games this season but whenever he is in the lineup, Connolly, 30, is a major contributor as his 15 points show.
But maybe Connolly’s luck is about to turn. He gets to head down the Queen Elizabeth Way with his best game as a Maple Leaf under his belt. The Leaf centre scored both goals in Tuesday’s 2-1 overtime win over the Carolina Hurricanes.
Leafs head coach Ron Wilson took a media holiday after Wednesday’s practice but it looks like Jonas Gustavasson will start in goal against the Sabres. That allows No. 1 goaltender James Reimer to face the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday at the Air Canada Centre.
Centre Matthew Lombardi skated by himself before the Leafs’ practised on Wednesday. He has missed the last 11 games with a separated shoulder and may return in a week or so.