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Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Ian White was back at practice and only slightly less worse for wear on Tuesday after receiving about 20 stitches to his upper lip and above his left eye. White was hit by a puck deflected by New York Rangers forward Sean Avery in the Leafs' 4-1 loss last Saturday at home and had missed Monday's practice for repairs.

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"It's not fun - it actually hurts a lot more than I thought it would," said White, whose lip was badly swollen and bruised but not enough to keep him out of Saturday's game against the Canucks in Vancouver. "It's part of the game. At least I didn't lose any teeth.

"Avery tipped it, I don't know where he was trying to score or where he thought the net was, but it wasn't anywhere near it. I don't know what he was thinking, but maybe he wasn't at all."

The smallish defenceman has been one of the Leafs few bright spots in an ugly seven-game start to this point, averaging more than 21 minutes a game and sitting tied for the team lead in scoring with four points. At +3, White is also one of only two Leafs - winger Alexei Ponikarovsky (+5) being the other - to post a positive plus-minus rating during the team's skid into the NHL's basement.

Toronto has been outscored by 18 goals so far this season, the worst mark in the league.

Head coach Ron Wilson singled White out for praise after practice Tuesday.

"Whitey's done a great job," Wilson said. "He's had to battle to get from where he started on the depth chart to being probably our best defenceman right now, without a doubt.

"He's just played better than other guys. The surprises have been that some other people haven't played as well as we expected."

Tuesday's practice - the second of four in a row at home before the team flies to Vancouver Thursday night - was also noteworthy for being fairly physical, as the Leafs bigger defencemen like Mike Komisarek and Luke Schenn laid a few hits on their teammates. Wilson said that was all part of the plan to get his team out of its slump.

"We're trying to get better in our own end and practise this week with some intensity. Obviously we're trying to get out of the doldrums that we're in, and being intense in practice... I think that's something that's really necessary for us right now."

Wilson also spoke to the fact that he'd coached teams - in both Anaheim and San Jose - that had had poor starts, and said he wasn't panicked over the Leafs' situation so far.

"You don't like losing obviously, but I saw a lot of positive stuff the other night and I slept relatively well," he said. "You've been through this and that's what, fortunately, coaching experience is all about. You go through these hard times and it makes you a better coach and hopefully it makes you a better team."

Notes: The Leafs don't plan on having rookie netminder Jonas Gustavsson available for the Vancouver game, but Wilson said he was hopeful Gustavsson could play in Monday's game against the Anaheim Ducks. With both Gustavsson and Vesa Toskala out, Joey MacDonald is expected to start on Saturday.

 

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