It’d be hard to dream up a worse possible start to David Clarkson’s tenure with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Now he’ll sit for two more games with his second suspension of the season for a head shot in Thursday’s loss to the St. Louis Blues.
This was another no-brainer suspension – both in terms of Clarkson’s actions and for the league to hand out – as he hit a puck-less Vladimir Sobotka in the head, high and dirty, in the second period with his team already in a 4-0 hole.
There might be some debate over how much the Leafs will miss Clarkson at this point, but against the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday, they could certainly use all hands on deck. The Leafs are at the 23-man roster limit and will now likely be forced to dress every forward left on the roster, including enforcer Frazer McLaren.
After signing a ridiculous seven-year deal for $5.25-million a season on the first day of free agency, Clarkson has only two goals and six points through 23 games, putting him on pace for 18 points as he draws increasing fire from the fan base already for not earning his considerable salary.
Some of that lack of production has been how he has been used – in a more defensive role, with far less power play time than in New Jersey – but it’s also quickly becoming clear just how limited his game often is.
On a Toronto team labouring to generate offence, Clarkson has really struggled to make good use of his linemates and continues to take a lot of low percentage shots, two elements that were issues during his time with the Devils.
And piling the penalties and suspensions on top of the lack of production isn’t helping his cause.
- Chicago has been on fire offensively of late with 19 goals in three consecutive blowout wins over Florida, Dallas and Philadelphia in the last seven days. Asked about the challenge of facing the Blackhawks on Saturday morning, Leafs coach Randy Carlyle was blunt and brief about his team’s effort level: “Well, I guess they can’t be brain dead.” So there’s your scouting report.
- Injured Leafs centre Dave Bolland was spotted at the rink talking to former Blackhawks teammates and is now off of crutches. He has been upgraded to a walking cast and remains “on schedule” for his recovery from a cut ankle tendon back at the start of November. Just what that schedule is remains unknown.
- One thing to watch: Ice conditions at the Air Canada Centre could be a big problem for Saturday’s game. MLSE staff have been on strike the past two days and at the morning skate the surface was an issue for both teams.
- Toronto’s blueline will get another new look against the Blackhawks, with both Mark Fraser and Paul Ranger expected to sit out for the first time. That will make for a smaller, sleeker look on the blueline with all three of Jake Gardiner, John-Michael Liles and Morgan Rielly all dressed. Captain Dion Phaneuf also returns from suspension for this one.
- The Leafs will start Jonathan Bernier in goal while the Blackhawks will go with 24-year-old Finnish rookie Antti Raanta. Chicago’s missing its two top netminders due to injury, but Raanta dominated Finland’s top league last year and is 5-0-1 with a .926 save percentage so far in the NHL.
- On a relate note, the Blackhawks made a minor trade on Saturday afternoon with the Edmonton Oilers to bring in Jason LaBarbera to help out in goal. He’ll start out in the minors.
JVR – Kadri – Kessel
Lupul – Holland - Kulemin
Raymond – Smith – Bodie
McLaren – McClement – D’Amigo
Gunnarsson – Phaneuf
Liles – Franson
Gardiner – Rielly
Scratches: Clarkson, Fraser, Ranger