The Leafs revealed the extent of the damage to captain Dion Phaneuf's leg in a statement this afternoon, telling the media that the injury will keep him "out of the lineup for approximately four to six weeks."
The team said Phaneuf suffered a "significant leg laceration" when he was cut just above his left knee by the skate of Sens forward Peter Regin in last night's game. He was then taken to a Toronto hospital around the second intermission and had "successful surgery" to assess and repair the damage.
Minus the captain, Toronto is playing the Capitals tonight and have called up German defenceman Korbinian Holzer from the Marlies for the game. He is on his way to Washington but is not expected to play, with Brett Lebda instead drawing into Phaneuf's spot in the lineup.
TSN's Darren Dreger has more of the specifics of Phaneuf's injury here. Below is the best video of the incident available:
In related media release today, the Leafs issued this statement at roughly the same time: "Please note that Elisha Cuthbert does not a have a Twitter account. Please refrain from quoting this false source in future reporting. Thanks for the co-operation."
Cuthbert, the Canadian actress who is dating Phaneuf, was quoted by some media outlets last night based on tweets providing updates on his injury from an unverified account (which has since been shut down).
Yet another lesson to not always trust what you read on Twitter.
As for the Leafs, they didn't practice today in D.C., but here's my best guess as to what their lineup will look like tonight without Phaneuf. Jonas Gustavsson will get his fourth start of the season in the second game of the back-to-back:
MacArthur - Grabovski - Kulemin Versteeg - Bozak - Kessel Sjostrom - Brent - Caputi Brown - Hanson - Orr
Kaberle - Beauchemin Gunnarsson - Schenn Lebda - Komisarek
Scratches: Mitchell, Holzer
The defence pairings are going to get interesting with Phaneuf out the next 12 to 18 or so games. Ron Wilson still has four lefties and two righties (Schenn, Komisarek) to work with, and my guess is he may have to break up the Kaberle-Schenn pairing despite how well it's worked this season.
Phaneuf's absence leaves Beauchemin, generally one of the top minute men on the team, in need of a new partner, which could be really be anyone given his versatility. When Phaneuf left last night's game in the middle of the second period, Wilson mostly used Kaberle-Beauchemin as his top unit with Gunnarsson-Schenn and Beauchemin-Komisarek as his next go-to pairings.
Given we've seen Lebda and Komisarek play together on that third pairing already this year, that could be one unit Wilson keeps together.
There's been a suggestion out there today that perhaps the Leafs will be better off without Phaneuf, but looking at the pairings they have to work with, it's hard to see how that's the case. None of Gunnarsson, Lebda or Komisarek have played particularly well or received many minutes this season, and at least one is now inline for a big bump in ice time.
Yes, Phaneuf has been prone to defensive errors and is a minus player so far, but he has also been part of a defensive unit that has dramatically cut down the shots and chances against this season. He likely shouldn't play as many minutes as he does in tough situations, but he's a more effective player than anyone Toronto has among its No. 5 to 7 blueliners and his loss will definitely be felt.
The Leafs are going to need a big-time performance from whatever their top pairing will be. Schenn, in particular, is likely in line for even more ice time, and it'll be interesting if he can continue to deliver solid play with an increased workload (and in a matchup against other teams' top lines).
All of that said, much of the focus will continue to be on Toronto's offence until they can consistently score more goals. Next to Boston, Washington has so far been the second-best defensive team in the Eastern Conference, and a lot of the credit there falls to rookie netminder Michal Neuvirth (an early Calder candidate).
The Leafs still only have nine goals in their past seven games and just three players (MacArthur, Kessel and Kulemin) are on pace to have more than 37 points this season. That's not going to be nearly good enough for this group to be a playoff team.
(One other point worth a small mention is that the injuries to Armstrong and Phaneuf will eat into Toronto's available cap space a little. With Hanson and Holzer recalled and potentially on the roster for the next four to six weeks, that will mean up to $275,000 in additional salary costs. Contrary to popular belief, teams do not receive salary relief due to injuries, which is why teams like the Devils get put in a position where they can't recall players.)