Matthew Lombardi, Robert Lang, Ian Laperriere

Brian Burke says Leafs won’t rush Matthew Lombardi back into action

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When the Nashville Predators signed Matthew Lombardi in 2010, many people thought that the team found its perfect center. Even skeptics who believed his breakthrough 2009-10 smelled like a classic contract year outlier admitted that his combination of speed, defensive aptitude and occasional offensive  creativity would probably make him a natural fit for Nashville.

Sadly, that plane never really lifted off the ground as concussion issues plagued Lombardi since he fell face-first into the boards on October 13. He only ended up playing two games for the Predators, failing to score a single point before the Preds packaged him with Cody Franson in a trade to Toronto that looked bad the moment it was announced and keeps looking worse with each passing day.

Franson’s solid promise probably gives the Maple Leafs the “W” in that trade on his own merit, but Nashville did manage to unload the last two years and $7 million of Lombardi on Toronto. Rich teams like the Maple Leafs can take advantage of risky moves like these; while it’s easy to say that the Leafs can just shelve Lombardi’s $3.5 million cap hit on the long-term injured reserve if he can’t play, Toronto still would have to actually pay him.

One might wonder if the Maples Leafs are anxious to get Lombardi on the ice when you combine the uncomfortable idea of paying him to recover from his injury with the tantalizing premise of upgrading this team down the middle with the additions of Lombardi and Tim Connolly. Thankfully, Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke seems keen on taking a patient approach instead.

That doesn’t mean Toronto general manager Brian Burke will push his luck by rushing centre Matthew Lombardi back for the vital first part of the schedule. Not even in the wake of reports that the centre’s summer of recovery from a severe concussion continues to go better than most people thought.

“It’s too soon to tell,” Burke told Sun Media. “As we always do with head injuries, we’ll err on the side of caution.”

Which means keeping Lombardi out of contact drills at the start of training camp and perhaps no game action until well into the schedule. The hopes is that the club’s new projected No. 1 centre, Tim Connolly, clicks with Phil Kessel and that Tyler Bozak gets accustomed to his likely spot as No. 3 pivot behind Mikhail Grabovski. That would buy valuable time.

Lombardi and Connolly rank as serious wild cards going into next season. The two centers could help Toronto make a playoff bid if they can reach a moderate level of health, but that’s a big if for both players. Getting a healthy two years out of at least one of those pivots would go a long way in breaking what must be an interminable playoff drought for many crazed Leafs fans. It’s unclear where exactly Lombardi is on his road to recovery, but we’ll keep an eye out for updates along the way.

Letang had a ‘good day’ at practice, Penguins hoping he can return soon

PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 09: Kris Letang #58 of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Joonas Donskoi #27 of the San Jose Sharks battle for the puck during the third period in Game Five of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on June 9, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Yesterday, they got Sidney Crosby back.

Soon, the Pittsburgh Penguins should have another key player back in the lineup. Kris Letang, their top defenseman, participated in full-contact practice today, taking the same step Crosby took two days ago.

“He had a good day on the ice today, we’ll see where it goes from there,” head coach Mike Sullivan said of Letang, who’s missed three games with an upper-body injury. “We’re encouraged with his progress. We’re hoping to get him back soon.”

The Penguins host the Islanders tomorrow night. Don’t be surprised if Letang plays. He skated with Ian Cole at this morning’s practice.

If Letang isn’t ready to go against the Isles, his next opportunity to return will be Saturday in Philadelphia.

Goalie nods: After Subban’s rough outing, B’s turn to McIntyre

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 22: Zane McIntyre #50 of the Boston Bruins makes a save against the Washington Capitals during the second period at TD Garden on September 22, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Crazy start to the year in Boston.

On Wednesday night, the B’s will start their fourth different goalie of the season — a season that’s just six games old, remember — as Zane McIntyre gets the nod at MSG against the Rangers.

McIntyre made his NHL debut in last night’s 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Minnesota, coming on in relief of Malcolm Subban, who was making his second-ever start. Subban allowed three goals on 16 shots before getting hooked midway through the second period, and McIntyre made 15 saves on 17 shots to close things out.

Needless to say, these are tough times in Boston’s crease.

The club’s No. 1 netminder, Tuukka Rask, is still sidelined with injury (though head coach Claude Julien said Rask may be available for Saturday’s game against Detroit). Anton Khudobin, the club’s No. 2, is out three weeks with an upper-body ailment.

Unsurprisingly, the Bruins have struggled with all the flip-flopping in goal. They’ve allowed nine goals over their last two games — both losses — and that came after Rask stopped 62 of 64 shots in back-to-back wins over the Jets and Devils.

For the Rangers, Henrik Lundqvist gets the start in goal.


— Battle of the Backups in Brooklyn, as Al Montoya and the Canadiens take on Thomas Greiss and the Isles.

Cam Talbot, fresh off a shutout win over Winnipeg in the Heritage Classic, goes for the Oilers. Braden Holtby is expected to play for Washington.

— Some uncertainty in Anaheim: John Gibson, who came on in relief for the injured Jonathan Bernier in last night’s OT loss to San Jose, would (presumably) be the guy tonight against Nashville. That said, Gibson has played quite a bit lately — three games in the last six nights — and the club did recall Dustin Tokarski from AHL San Diego today. Tokarski has a fair bit of NHL experience, with 33 regular season and five playoff games on his resume.

No word yet on a Preds starter.

Alain Vigneault got an interesting call from Patrick Roy this past summer

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 29:  Nick Holden #22 of the New York Rangers in action against the New Jersey Devils  during their pre season game at Madison Square Garden on September 29, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Patrick Roy quit the Colorado Avalanche due to “philosophical differences” with GM Joe Sakic. That much we know for sure.

And while those differences were never explained in full detail, it sure sounds like one of them — and let’s face it, there were probably a bunch of them — was the assessment of defenseman Nick Holden.

To refresh your memory, Sakic traded Holden to the Rangers in June, and all the Avs got in return was a fourth-round draft pick in 2017.

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault remembers the trade well.

“It was funny, we were coming back from (the draft in) Buffalo, I got a call as I got off the plane in Ottawa from Patrick Roy saying to me, ‘You just got one of my better defensemen,'” Vigneault said, per the New York Post.

“And I don’t know why Pat called me out of the blue.”

Yeah, funny.

For the record, we’re not suggesting that the Holden trade tore the Colorado Avalanche apart. At the end of the day, it was a minor trade. But it may have been illustrative of the philosophical differences between Roy and Sakic. The former was clearly a Holden fan. The latter thought he was worth a fourth-round pick.

According to Vigneault, Holden has been a good early fit with the Rangers (4-2-0). The 29-year-old, whose cap hit is just $1.65 million, has logged over 20 minutes a game while skating mostly on the top pairing with Ryan McDonagh, who’s been excellent to start the season.

It remains to be seen if Holden and McDonagh, both left shots, will remain together all year. McDonagh spent most of last year with right-shooting Dan Girardi or Kevin Klein, but those two are currently paired with Brady Skjei and Marc Staal, respectively. The healthy scratches last game were both rights shots, Adam Clendening and Dylan McIlrath, the latter of whom is reportedly on the trading block.

So a lot could still change with this Rangers defense, which came into the season under a powerful microscope. The early returns have been encouraging, though. (Or, at the very least, not as poor as many had expected.)

Meanwhile, the Avs’ back end remains a work in progress. Sakic said the Holden trade would open up opportunities for youngsters Nikita ZadorovChris Bigras, and Duncan Siemens; however, the latter two didn’t make the team out of camp and Zadorov has averaged just 16:25 of ice time so far.

In Colorado’s first five games, new coach Jared Bednar has leaned heavily on Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie, and Francois Beauchemin, with support from Zadorov, Eric Gelinas and free-agent additions Fedor Tyutin and Patrick Wiercioch.

Bernier out, Ducks recall Tokarski as rash of goalie injuries continues

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 01:  Goaltender Jonathan Bernier #1 of the Anaheim Ducks during the preseason NHL game against Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on October 1, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Ducks 3-2 in overtime.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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One of the prominent storylines early in this NHL campaign — the health, or lack thereof, of various netminders — has played out again, this time in Anaheim.

Last night, backup Jonathan Bernier exited just his second start of the year with an upper-body injury, forcing John Gibson to come on in relief for an eventual 2-1 OT loss to the Sharks.

Today, the Ducks announced Bernier is day-to-day with his ailment, and recalled Dustin Tokarski from AHL San Diego.

Bernier had been solid for the Ducks in limited action this year, stopping 52 of 56 shots over his two appearances for a .929 save percentage. Tokarski has been less successful with the Gulls, allowing seven goals over two appearances (both wins, mind you) for a .885 save percentage.

The bigger story, obviously, is Bernier joining a laundry list of injured netminders.

A quick rundown:

— Arizona is without Mike Smith
— L.A. is without Jonathan Quick and Jeff Zatkoff
— Boston is without Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin
— Buffalo is without Robin Lehner (illness)

The Ducks are back in action tonight, hosting Nashville, and it’s likely they’ll go with Gibson again, rather than throw Tokarski right into action fresh off a recall.