The main preoccupation for Toronto Maple Leafs fans this week will be the recovery of Joffrey Lupul from his head injury - he skated briefly on Sunday and plans to take a longer twirl Monday - but maybe they should just relax a bit.Yes, Lupul is the Leafs' most important player when you consider that when he does manage to avoid an injury and play they invariably win. In the six games Lupul appeared in before he was felled by a double-shot to the head last Thursday, he had 13 points and the Leafs went 4-0-2.
But the other side of the coin is that this season's edition of the Maple Leafs keeps passing the NHL tests they encounter and that includes the latest loss of Lupul. They did lose to the Philadelphia Flyers after Lupul was lost in the first period but they bounced back with a strong defensive game to beat the New Jersey Devils on Saturday.
Now the Leafs have another test in front of them this week - four games against teams they know they can beat that will allow them to put some breathing room between their perch in fifth place in the Eastern Conference and ninth place, home of the also-rans.
There is no reason to think the Leafs cannot manage this, since they have managed to handle just about every challenge in front of them this season despite lingering angst in the fan base over last year's terrible collapse that saw a playoff spot disappear.
The defence as a group has had its wobbles but so far has managed to bend rather than break. That has made it easier for goaltender James Reimer to confound the experts calling for a Roberto Luongo or Miikka Kiprusoff trade and made it easier for Leafs general manager David Nonis to resist giving away the farm to get Luongo. Reimer again bounced back from a so-so outing when he shook off the Flyer loss and stoned the Devils, who are desperately trying to push their way into eighth place in the East and failing.
The first part of this week's test starts Monday night when the Leafs open a home-and-road series against the New York Rangers at the Air Canada Centre. The Rangers, who are seventh but tied in points at 42 with the eighth-place New York Islanders, looked impressive since adding Derick Brassard, Ryane Clowe and John Moore at last week's trade deadline.
But if the Leafs can pull off a sweep they will open the gap between them and eighth place to eight points with eight games to play in the regular season. Then it's on to face the first-place Montreal Canadiens on Saturday, although the Leafs are 2-1 against them so far this season, followed by the Devils next Monday.
The other part of the test is keeping the momentum going without Lupul. All the Leafs would say about Lupul, who did not speak to the media after skating for about 20 minutes on Sunday, is that the session went well. They continue to avoid saying whether or not he has a concussion, although head coach Randy Carlyle said Saturday "everything is pretty much back to normal" for Lupul after a series of tests.
At this point, it looks like the earliest Lupul will come back is Saturday against the Canadiens. But there is hope he will certainly be able to play in the playoffs.
And that is where the biggest test of all will come, as it looks more and more like the Leafs will meet the Boston Bruins in the first round if the season plays out as expected. No one needs to be reminded what the Bruins have done to the Leafs over the last several years.Report Typo/Error