The Toronto Maple Leafs get back to action after a week off when they play the Calgary Flames on Saturday but two players are even more eager than their teammates for the opening faceoff.
Saturday’s game will be the first of the NHL regular season for Leafs forward Clarke MacArthur and defenceman Cody Franson, who both had to watch their teammates win their first two games of the season. Head coach Ron Wilson made Franson a healthy scratch while MacArthur was suspended by the NHL for the first two games for a pre-season hit on Justin Abdelkader of the Detroit Red Wings that was deemed a head shot.
Franson, 24, was a surprise scratch for the first two games since he was a regular for the last two seasons on the Nashville Predators’ defence. He came in an off-season trade with centre Matthew Lombardi and it was assumed Franson was an automatic choice for one of the top six spots.
But rookie Jake Gardiner had a surprisingly good camp and won a job, making an already crowded defence roster even tighter and Franson wound up as the extra defenceman. Wilson did not say who will sit on Saturday to make room for Franson but the likely candidate is Gardiner.
The coach did make it clear he was not impressed Franson was honest with the media about his unhappiness at sitting in the press box. Wilson does not spend a lot of time talking to Franson, it seems, because he found out he was a scratch by seeing a video on the Leafs’ web site of Wilson telling this to the media.
“He plays the next game and the rest is up to him,” Wilson said of Franson’s status with the team. “He put a lot of pressure on himself talking this week. Now he’s got to perform.”
MacArthur, who will take up his regular spot on a line with centre Mikhail Grabovski and right winger Nikolai Kulemin, said he is itching to go. He had some trouble with an elbow infection earlier this week after being hit by a puck in practice but said it’s cleared up.
Wilson said the Leafs spent a fair amount of time on fore-checking in Friday’s practice because of the long layoff. The Flames have been playing this week, drubbing the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday, and the Leafs need to get back to game speed quickly by fore-checking hard.
“This has been a long week,” Wilson said. “You can only practice so much. Calgary’s been playing so we have to simplify our game early.
“Practice is one thing but game tempo is entirely different. We’ve got to get pucks behind their defence and establish our fore-check early. We have to take shorter shifts and roll all our lines.”