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Toronto Maple Leafs James van Riemsdyk (21) is congratulated by the bench after scoring during first period NHL preseason action against the Philadelphia Flyers in Toronto on Monday September 16, 2013. (Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Toronto Maple Leafs James van Riemsdyk (21) is congratulated by the bench after scoring during first period NHL preseason action against the Philadelphia Flyers in Toronto on Monday September 16, 2013. (Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Van Riemsdyk's status unclear as Leafs prepare for Hurricanes Add to ...

The status of James van Riemsdyk remains up in the air for Thursday’s game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Leafs winger sustained a mysterious “upper-body injury” some time between Saturday’s 6-5 win over the Edmonton Oilers, in which he scored two goals, and the morning skate for Tuesday’s 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild. Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle would not say after the Wild game what van Riemsdyk’s injury was, only that it came as a surprise to him and the rest of the coaches, which indicated it was something that happened off the ice.

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Van Riemsdyk skated with the Leafs for about 35 minutes of their hour-long practice Thursday and was not around later to enlighten any reporters. He did not skate with his regular linemates, Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel, taking part in drills with a line of extra players.

“We’ll see if he’s available to us tomorrow,” Carlyle said. “Hopefully, with another 24 hours and a couple treatments, he’ll be back.”

Something else Carlyle is hopeful about is an improvement in the Leafs’ defensive game. They may be off to their best start to an NHL season in 20 years at 6-1, but the Leafs were outshot in five of those games, culminating in Tuesday’s 37-14 deficit to the Wild that still wound up as a 4-1 win.

Carlyle knows his team is treading on thin ice in this regard, as only the outstanding work of goaltenders Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer, coupled with a few awful performances at the other end of the ice, is keeping the Leafs at the top of the Eastern Conference.

“That’s our job as a coaching staff, to continue to find ways to improve our play without losing sight of the fact we’ve had some success,” Carlyle said. “But we know that it will work against us at some point if we continue to play to the level we play.”

The problem is, Carlyle admitted, trying to tell a group of young men who have lost just one game in seven that they require a lot of improvement in hanging on to the puck. The players pay lip service to the idea but keep coming back to that win-loss record.

“Obviously we can play better but when you’re winning how can you complain, right?” Kessel said. “You’re doing something right to win the games. It’s not an easy league to win games in. We’re 6-1 and we need to improve; we’ll do that.”

One thing that may not improve for a while is the team’s choice for the song to be played after every home win – We Can’t Stop by Miley Cyrus. The Leafs won their last two home games and given the superstitions of players, it will probably take a convincing loss to send the horrendous tune to the penalty box.

At first, no one in the Leafs room was eager to say just who picked the song.

“Certainly not my choice,” said forward Joffrey Lupul. “Whatever. As long as we keep winning I’ll deal with it.”

Eventually, though, Kessel did not deny the culprit might be his good friend and centre, Bozak.

“My buddy?” Kessel said. “Probably it’s my buddy’s fault but you can ask him about it.”

However, Bozak was nowhere to be found. But he seemed just a tad sensitive when news of his musical taste made its way to Twitter. “Sue me, dude,” Bozak, aka @Bozie42, replied to one person who questioned his devotion to Ms. Cyrus.

Follow me on Twitter: @dshoalts

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