Buffalo Sabres v Toronto Maple Leafs

Tim Connolly’s Leafs stint starts as expected: with injury concerns

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Some players are frustrating because people believe they lack intensity, but few things are as disappointing as an injury-prone player. That frustration doubles when that often-hurt individual possesses dazzling skills, though.

Tim Connolly’s injury woes devolved his relationship with the Buffalo Sabres so significantly that he rarely felt welcome at home. It’s easy to empathize with Connolly because there’s only so much a person can do to avoid getting hurt in a physical game like hockey, but it’s understandable that Sabres fans grew tired of it.

Those same fans know today’s update all too well, then. TSN’s Darren Dreger reports that Connolly is expected to play in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ home opener, but that could change on he morning of that Thursday contest. The fragile forward is currently dealing with an upper-body injury of an unspecified severity.

If things go to plan, the Leafs will defy the odds by having both Connolly and Matthew Lombardi in their opening night lineup. Lombardi’s rehab from post-concussion syndrome is seemingly going better than expected, although we’ll certainly keep an eye out to see if his situation changes.

The health of those two players is one of main reasons why the Maple Leafs rank as one of the league’s biggest mystery teams. Combining Connolly’s creative playmaking with Phil Kessel’s sniping skills could give Toronto scoring depth alongside the Nikolai Kulemin-Mikhail Grabovski-Clarke MacArthur line while Lombardi’s speed and versatility would be a boon in defensive situations.

Of course, they could just as easily miss a bunch of games and leave the Leafs with largely the same offense that scored 218 goals last season. The Montreal Canadiens (216 goals) were the only East team that managed to make the playoffs with less than 224 goals, so the Leafs know that they’ll need to be more explosive in 2011-12.

A healthy Connolly could give them that extra boost needed, which is a situation that could torment the Leafs and their fans all season long. Time will tell if he’s worth the trouble.

(H/T to Rotoworld.)

Flames see a ‘style fit’ with Stone

Michael Stone #26 of the Arizona Coyotes passes the puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center on February 29, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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The Calgary Flames wanted to add depth to their defense, and they didn’t want to wait until the last minute to get it done.

So, after signing Matt Bartkowski last week, they added Michael Stone yesterday in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes.

The trade deadline isn’t until next Wednesday.

“We have five games before the deadline, so we tried to get out ahead of it a bit,” Flames GM Brad Treliving said, per the Calgary Herald. “We’re deeper than we were a week ago, so we’re happy with it.”

Stone, a right shot, is expected to skate on the Flames’ second or third pairing with T.J. Brodie or Bartkowski, respectively. He may replace Dennis Wideman, who logged just 13:35 in Saturday’s OT loss at Vancouver.

“T.J. has some tempo to him so that could be a good fit. Whether it’s him or Bartkowski, we feel there’s a style fit,” Treliving said, per Arizona Sports. “We have some left-side guys who can skate and when Stony is at his best he’s playing with a partner who can skate and retrieve pucks so he can stabilize.”

The Flames play tonight in Nashville.

Stamkos resumes skating, but still no date for return

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 29:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning looks on against the New York Rangers during the first period in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on May 29, 2015 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Pleasant sight for the Bolts this week, as captain Steve Stamkos returned to the ice.

Stamkos, who has been out since undergoing major knee surgery in mid-November, took to the ice ahead of the team skate this morning, per the Times. He did stickhandling, shooting and fired some one-timers with assistant coach Brad Lauer but, according to GM Steve Yzerman, there’s still no set date for Stamkos’ return.

The 27-year-old was initially put on a 4-6 month timetable. If Stamkos’ recovery is closer to the four month estimate, there’s a chance he returns this season. If it’s closer to six, he could be done for the year.

Tampa Bay has struggled without Stamkos in the lineup, going just 16-18-7 since he got hurt. The team has experience a bit of an upswing lately, however, and head into tonight’s action just six points back of Boston for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Julien: ‘My job’ is to make Galchenyuk better

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 08:  Alex Galchenyuk #27 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on during the warmup prior to the NHL game against the Boston Bruins at the Bell Centre on November 8, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Boston Bruins 3-2.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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BROSSARD, Quebec (AP) The Montreal Canadiens skated hard, battled and worked, and that’s just how new coach Claude Julien wants the practices to be.

Julien finally got to put the Canadiens through a full workout with no distractions on Monday. It was aimed mostly at convincing his struggling team that tighter defense will lead to more scoring chances on attack.

“He wanted it to be 40 minutes of high pace, high intensity, so when it comes to game time it’s second nature,” said defenseman Jeff Petry.

Julien, who replaced Michel Therrien last week, will be seeking his first victory since returning to Montreal when the Canadiens face the Rangers in New York on Tuesday night.

His debut saw the club fall 3-1 at home to the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday.

He had only one practice with the team before his first game and it was something of a circus, with fans jammed into the viewing areas at the team’s suburban training center and two all-sports TV stations covering the event live.

Another practice Sunday at the Bell Centre was a promotional event in front of 10,000 shrieking kids.

It added to the challenge for Julien to put into effect the changes he hopes will snap the Canadiens out of a 1-6-1 slump in which they have scored only 10 goals, four of them by captain Max Pacioretty and another two from his linemate Alexander Radulov.

Julien wants his team to spend less time in its own zone and more time harrying opposition goaltenders. That starts with getting the puck more quickly on defense and holding onto it longer in the opponent’s end.

“What we want to try to do, and what we did today, is to try to be better defensively for goals against and chances against,” he said. “But more than that, if we’re better defensively we can (get) the puck quickly.

“I want us to play with the puck, not without it. I’m looking for puck possession time. It’s not necessarily about analytics, it’s that if we have the puck more, our chances are much better of winning.”

It’s a formula that worked for most of the 10 seasons Julien spent with the Boston Bruins before he was replaced by Bruce Cassidy two weeks ago.

Boston won a Stanley Cup and reached another final during his time there, although they fell short of the playoffs the past two seasons.

The Canadiens started the season 13-1-1 and maintained a decent record despite a run of injuries through December and January, but they’ve hit a wall of late.

That prompted general manager Marc Bergevin to fire fifth-year coach Therrien and bring in Julien, whose first NHL coaching job was with the Canadiens from 2003 to 2006.

There is much that needs fixing. The Canadiens have got no goals and not even many scoring chances or sustained offensive zone pressure from their second, third or fourth lines in the past eight games.

They’ve also been lax defensively and at times had spotty goaltending, although Carey Price was sharp against the Jets.

“We’ve got enough skill here, (the offense) will come back,” said Julien. “I’m not worried about it.

“We have enough players on this team that can score goals, but we’ve got to start in the right place and that’s when we get the puck back quickly. It remains to be seen, but that’s my belief.”

What he hasn’t had enough time for yet is to work on line combinations.

Mostly, he has used the units Therrien had in place. He moved Alex Galchenyuk to center on the first line to start against Winnipeg, but had Phillip Danault back in that spot by the third period.

Now Galchenyuk is back to the second line with Brendan Gallagher and Paul Byron.

“I know he’s a very talented player; my job is to make him better,” Julien said of Galchenyuk. “Now I want to work with him on the little aspects of the game that will make him even better.”

The slump has narrowed the Canadiens’ lead in the Atlantic Division to only two points ahead of Ottawa, which has two games in hand.

“It’s what happens when you don’t win games,” said Gallagher. “Everyone else in the league seems to be winning except for us and they’re gaining ground.

“If we get back to playing winning hockey, playing our style and doing all the little things Claude and his staff are trying to get across, then we’ll be where we want to be.”

With Marner out again Maple Leafs recall Frederik Gauthier from AHL

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 19:  Mitchell Marner #16 of the Toronto Maple Leafs cuts in for a scoring attempt on Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on January 19, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Rangers defeated the Maple Leafs 5-2. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Maple Leafs will once again be without prized rookie Mitch Marner on Tuesday night when they take on the Winnipeg Jets.

The officially placed him on injured reserve Tuesday morning retroactive to Feb. 15. He suffered an upper body injury that night against the Columbus Blue Jackets when he took an awkward fall into the boards and has not played since.

With Marner placed on IR, the Maple Leafs made a corresponding roster move to recall forward Frederik Gauthier from the the Toronto Marlies of the AHL.

Gauthier, a first-round draft pick (No. 21 overall) by the Maple Leafs in 2013, has spent most of this season with the Marlies where he has one goal and five assists in 26 games. He has also played 18 games for the big club, scoring two goals and an assist. He last played for the Maple Leafs on Jan. 31. He was skating on the team’s fourth line between Matt Martin and Nikita Soshnikov at the morning skate.

With 48 points in 56 games Marner is still the second leading scorer on the Maple Leafs, just one point behind No. 1 overall pick Auston Matthews. Even though he is out tonight he will still be eligible to return on Thursday night when the team takes on the New York Rangers. Toronto has briefly fallen out of a playoff position in the Eastern Conference, sitting one point behind both the Florida Panthers (third spot in Atlantic Division) and Boston Bruins (second wild card spot).