Matthew Lombardi

Toronto’s secret weapon? Matt Lombardi’s concussion recovery rolls along

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When the Maple Leafs traded Brett Lebda to Nashville for Cody Franson and Matt Lombardi, it was believed that the Leafs acquisition of Lombardi was mostly for financial reasons. The Predators had a guy in Lombardi who missed almost all of last season with a concussion and his initial prognosis showed that his potential return to action this year didn’t look too good.

With the deal made and now with Lebda being bought out by Nashville in the aftermath, Franson is set to be one of the top blue liners in Toronto while Lombardi is attempting to make a comeback of his own. As we’ve seen with those coming back from concussions, it’s tricky to figure things out with an injury you can’t exactly examine physically. For Lombardi, he’s been working out on the ice and things are going well enough that it looks like we could see him on the ice this season.

Jonas Siegel of TSN Radio’s Leaf Report checks in Lombardi and sees that the progress for him lately has been nothing but positive.

“It’s getting better,” he explained. “I’m definitely not where I need to be in terms of my fitness, but with every day we’re pushing it a little bit more and I’m getting work done in the gym and obviously pushing her on the ice. It’s coming real good.”

Acquired in a trade from Nashville earlier this summer, Lombardi remains optimistic about returning to action this season, but is unable to narrow down a timeline.

“That’s my goal,” said Lombardi. “I want to keep getting better and be in there as soon as I can.

“I wish I could have a date and have that in mind, but obviously training camp is coming pretty quick here. We’ll see how it progresses the next few days and go from there.”

Lombardi’s openness about how he’s feeling and what he’s doing on the ice is in stark contrast to the secrecy that surrounds Sidney Crosby’s progress in coming back from a concussion. While it took a handful of clandestine reports from mysterious sources to get Crosby and the Penguins to be more forthcoming in how he’s progressing, things on Lombardi’s part sound much more positive.

If Lombardi can come back and play this season he’ll give the Leafs another offensive producer at center to use and with Tim Connolly and Mikhail Grabovski already slotted in on the top two lines up the middle, getting Lombardi into the mix would give the Leafs better depth and a solid scorer.

In Lombardi’s last full season played he scored 19 goals and had 53 points in Phoenix. If Lombardi could come close to that production, he’d provide a huge lift to the Leafs lineup. He’d also help make GM Brian Burke look like a genius for taking a chance on a guy that Predators GM David Poile was eager to give up on not knowing what, if anything, Lombardi could provide.

With Lombardi having two more years left on his contract at $3.5 million, the usually frugal Predators didn’t want to have the potentially wasted cap space. Having Burke use the Leafs cap space and gamblers mentality here could wind up paying off big time for the Leafs and help turn an already seemingly lopsided deal into one for the history books.

Canucks spoil Ducks’ home opener via shootout

Adam Cracknell, Ryan Miller
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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Ryan Miller and the Vancouver Canucks have already found a groove just three games into the regular season. The Anaheim Ducks are still looking for a way to get their offense going.

Radim Vrbata and Alex Burrows scored in the shootout, and the Canucks spoiled Anaheim’s home opener with a 2-1 victory Monday night.

Miller made 28 saves and Adam Cracknell scored in regulation for Vancouver, which beat the Ducks for just the third time in their last 12 meetings.

Vancouver improved to 2-0 on the road in the young season, with Miller yielding just one goal in each game. That’s encouraging to the veteran, who played in only four games after Feb. 22 last season while dealing with a knee injury.

“I’m just trying to go out there and battle and compete,” said Miller, who stopped a third-period redirection by Carl Hagelin with his mask. “That was my mindset coming off an injury. That’s what it really comes down to, getting back the focus early on. I didn’t play hockey for a while. The technical stuff I worked on this summer and I pay attention to in practice.”

Even with twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin combining for just one shot, the Canucks won the new season’s first meeting between the Pacific Division’s top two teams last year. Anaheim won its third straight division title, while Vancouver finished a surprising second before losing in the opening round of the playoffs.

Sami Vatanen scored and Frederik Andersen stopped 24 shots for the Ducks, who have scored just one goal while going winless in the first two games of a season that begins with Stanley Cup aspirations.

Anaheim was shut out in San Jose on Saturday in its opener before returning to Honda Center for its first real game on home ice since Game 7 of the Western Conference finals, when Chicago advanced to win the Stanley Cup.

Kevin Bieksa played nearly 24 1/2 minutes in his second game with the Ducks. Anaheim acquired the veteran defenseman from Vancouver last summer after he played 10 years with the Canucks, who drafted him in 2001. Bieksa was reunited with Ryan Kesler, the longtime Vancouver forward who moved to Anaheim before last season.

“We fought back a lot better than we did in San Jose,” Bieksa said. “So we need to keep building on this in the rest of this homestand here. If we do that, we’re going to be all right.”

After the Ducks failed to score on a power play during their first official taste of 3-on-3 overtime hockey, Vrbata and Burrows got stuttering, halting shots past Andersen, who stopped Burrows’ shot before watching it trickle under him.

“I’ve done that move a few times against a few goalies, but I don’t think I’ve ever done it against Freddie,” Burrows said. “So I tried it, and I’m lucky it went in tonight. It hit his stick and trickled in.”

Jakob Silfverberg scored in the shootout for the Ducks, who lost their home opener for just the second time in six seasons. Anaheim’s talented offensive players aren’t clicking so far, but nobody is panicking yet.

“I think we’re doing things the right way now,” Vatanen said. “We battled hard. We got some good chances. The season is long, so we’re going the right way.”

Both teams opened at a furious pace, with end-to-end chances throughout. After a scoreless first period, Vatanen got the Ducks’ first goal of the season when his long, low shot went through Mike Santorelli‘s screen.

Cracknell evened it later in the period with a sharp-angled shot that somehow deflected off Andersen’s shoulder or stick and landed behind the goalie. The journeyman got his first regular-season NHL goal since April 4, 2013, and just the seventh of his 85-game NHL career.

“Pretty fortunate goal on their part,” Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said.

NOTES: A small group of vocal protesters gathered outside Honda Center to call for the suspension of Ducks D Clayton Stoner, who faces charges in Canada related to a 2013 grizzly bear hunt. … Cracknell hadn’t scored a goal in his last 49 regular-season games, although he got a postseason goal in 2014 for St. Louis.

Coming Tuesday: Dan Boyle, $4.5M healthy scratch

Brad Marchand, Dan Boyle

Few things say “Oops, bad signing” quite like putting a really expensive player in street clothes (without an injury being involved).

The Philadelphia Flyers set quite the high bar in that regard, but the New York Rangers can’t laugh too much. Not with Dan Boyle expected to be a healthy scratch against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday.

The word from the Bergen Record is that Dylan McIlrath will draw into the Rangers lineup in Boyle’s space, although Kevin Klein will take over Boyle’s role on the power play.

Let’s face the facts. At 39, Boyle may still boast some zip on offense, but maybe not enough to justify an everyday role.

It’s not the first time the Rangers have decided to make the difficult, awkward season to phase a big name out as he approaches age 40.

Even if it’s just a momentary situation, one cannot help but wonder if Boyle’s career is screeching to halt much like Martin St. Louis’ did in 2014-15 (though the latter’s decline was more sudden).

On the bright side, it sounds like Boyle has a side job lined up with Faith No More.