All of the fill-ins have played well, but their time is running out.
Toronto Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson said after practice Thursday that he expects both Colby Armstrong and Clarke MacArthur to return from injuries on Friday in Washington.
With Armstrong coming off injured reserve, that means Toronto will be over the 23-man roster limit and have to shed a body in the next 24 hours.
"It is hard," Wilson said of deciding who to send down. "But more than likely you send a young player down. We don't have time to put someone on waivers to clear a spot for Army. It has to be a young guy who goes.
"That's just the way it is. And it's the right thing, too, because someone playing nine or 10 minutes instead of 20 minutes in the American League, you're better off to be there. The player won't tell you that, but in terms of development, it's much better to play a lot."
Less than an hour later, the decision had been made, and rookie Joe Colborne was returned to the minors after a solid nine-game showing with the Leafs.
The Leafs other options would have been to demote either Matt Frattin or Keith Aulie, although Frattin scored a highlight-reel goal on Tuesday. They also appear to like having Aulie as an extra defenceman, which is curious given he could use more playing time than he's getting.
In any event, Wilson said he's happy to have as many choices as he does these days.
"We've got a lot more talent with the Marlies than we've ever had since I've been here," Wilson said.
Armstrong has been out since the fifth game of the season with a high ankle sprain, while MacArthur was a surprise late scratch with a shoulder sprain Tuesday before the Leafs overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils.
MacArthur has had one of the most frustrating seasons on the team, as he's missed a couple games with a suspension and then several more with various injuries. He said Thursday he has now injured both shoulders this season.
"I'll try and tape it up or whatever and hopefully be able to play," MacArthur said. "It's nothing major. The biggest thing is you don't want to go out and get hit first shift and then I'm out and we're short the whole game."
Wilson, meanwhile, sounded particularly happy to have Armstrong back, who he always seems to refer to as a good luck charm of sorts.
"He plays a 200-foot game," Wilson said. "He can play in any situation. And then on top of that you add in his leadership qualities, his character and on our team in particular, his sense of humour. He keeps everybody pretty loose."
"He's huge," netminder James Reimer said. "Army's a huge team guy and a great character guy. He lifts how we're feeling in the room, gives us a huge boost."
- Wilson wasn't tipping his hand, but Reimer seemed to assume he was playing on Friday. The only argument for Jonas Gustavsson is that he did well against the Capitals last time around, but it's clear who the No. 1 netminder is on this team.
- There's been some suggestion that Nikolai Kulemin, who's goal-less in 20 games, may be scratched at some point, but Wilson indicated he'll play Friday. When it's a choice between he and Jay Rosehill, that's the right call.
- Even Wilson said his lines may very well not look anything like what they did in practice, so forecasting a lineup for Friday is difficult. Below is my best guess given who is expected to dress now that Colborne has been sent down.
Leafs projected lineup
Lupul - Bozak - Kessel MacArthur - Connolly - Armstrong Frattin - Grabovski - Kulemin Steckel - Dupuis - Crabb
Gunnarsson - Phaneuf Gardiner - Schenn Liles - Franson