One way of looking at it is to say the Toronto Maple Leafs were 6.6 seconds away from not making any of the three changes they made for Wednesday night’s rematch with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Then again, considering that two of the changes were the return of two regulars from injuries, defenceman John-Michael Liles and forward Colby Armstrong, they might have happened anyway. The third change will see James Reimer start in goal instead of Jonas Gustavsson.
The shuffle came in the wake of Tuesday’s disaster in Pittsburgh, when the Leafs blew a 4-1 lead in the third period. With 6.6 seconds left in the third period, Penguins superstar Evgeni Malkin tied the score on a deflection and then gave his team a 5-4 win when he scored the only goal in the shootout.
Forward Nazem Kadri, 21, and defenceman Keith Aulie were sent down to the Leafs’ farm team, the Toronto Marlies, to make room for Armstrong and Liles. At times, Kadri appeared ready to stick in the NHL since his latest promotion but the second-year winger still makes too many defensive mistakes for head coach Ron Wilson’s liking. He is heading back to the Marlies after 17 games with the Leafs in which he had four goals and one assist.
Liles has been out of action since Dec. 22 with a neck injury. Armstrong has been out since Dec. 17 with a concussion. Liles would not say for sure at the game-day skate if he is playing Wednesday night but allowed that he is preparing as if he’ll be in the lineup.
It will be Reimer’s first start since Jan. 17 and his latest attempt to reclaim the job he grabbed a year ago with a sensational run after being called up from the Marlies. Gustavsson then established himself when Reimer struggled this season following his return from a head injury but was not impressive against the Penguins on Tuesday.
Now that the Leafs fumbled a chance to win the first game of a back-to-back, home-and-home set with the Penguins, the statistics are against them. They have a 7-2-1 record in the first of back-to-back games but are just 3-5-1 in the second. The Penguins, meanwhile, are 4-3-1 in the second game and 9-7-1 overall in back-to-backs.
The Leafs have 17 back-to-back sets on the schedule this season, which represents a total of 34 games. Barring a dramatic improvement in their second-night games this season, expect Leafs general manager Brian Burke to lobby strenuously this summer to prevent such an oddity from happening again.
While the Leafs held a full skate on Wednesday morning, perhaps to impress upon the players it’s not a good idea to blow a three-goal lead in the third period, the Penguins did not come to the Air Canada Centre. But they did make a player move, claiming centre Cal O’Reilly, 25, on re-entry waivers from the Phoenix Coyotes. There was no immediate word on whether or not he would make it to Toronto in time to play. The Toronto native had five points in 22 games with the Coyotes this season before he was sent down to their American Hockey League farm team.