Leafs experiment with JVR at center


This past weekend saw Dave Bolland get knocked out of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ lineup indefinitely while Tyler Bozak was placed on the LTIR, leaving the team dangerously thin at center. Sometimes that means improvising, which is why it shouldn’t be too surprising that Randy Carlyle is experimenting with different setups, most notably moving James van Riemsdyk to center.

Carlyle had a blunt explanation for the Toronto Sun on Monday.

“He has played there before, so it does not take rocket science to go in that direction,” Carlyle said. “We think he is more of the fit right now.”

The Toronto Sun points out that JVR played down the middle during two seasons of his NCAA career. Toronto also gave the 24-year-old a “long look” at the pivot spot when they acquired him, but ultimately opted against moving him from the wing.

The Maple Leafs’ lengthy layoff until Friday gives them time to see if the talented American can get acquainted with that new role. He hasn’t been awful in faceoffs – albeit in small sample sizes – since joining the Buds, so it could be an OK stopgap in that regard.*

Of course, that gap of time could allow Toronto GM Dave Nonis to add a center via a transaction. TSN’s Darren Dreger said the team’s in the market for a forward, especially a center, which is far from shocking.

Cap space-wise, it might be easier to make a trade, but free agency could be worth considering too. A guy like Vinny Prospal is still looking for work, for one.

This is certainly not an ideal situations for the Maple Leafs, yet at least they have options.

* – Obviously there are bigger concerns than draws, as centers tend to carry the heaviest defensive workloads of the three forward positions.

Campbell’s perfect snipe sinks Wings in OT

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Brian Campbell doesn’t score as many points as he used to, but he came up with a huge goal against the Red Wings on Sunday afternoon.

With the game tied, 1-1, in overtime, Campbell skated into the slot and beat Petr Mrazek with a perfect wrister to end the game.

It was also a pretty nice passing play between Jussi Jokinen, Jonathan Huberdeau and Campbell.

Dylan Larkin opened the scoring in the second period before Reilly Smith leveled the score with just over five minutes remaining.

The Wings have blown a lead in three straight games.

Detroit was up 2-0 and 3-2 in their last game, against Edmonton, before they finally closed the game out with an overtime goal by Niklas Kronwall.

They weren’t so fortunate against the Bruins on Wednesday, as they lost 3-2 in OT after leading 2-1 with under two minutes remaining in regulation.

This was the first meeting of the season between Detroit and Florida, but they’ll see each other three times between Feb. 4 and Mar. 19.

With Jonathan Bernier sputtering, we’ll meet Garret Sparks

Garett Sparks
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You can’t blame Mike Babcock for siding with the relatively unknown when the other option is Jonathan Bernier, a goalie who’s 0-8-1 so far in 2015-16.

With that in mind, meet Garret Sparks, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ expected starter for Monday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers.

Sparks was a seventh-round pick (190th overall) in 2011, a guy who was off to a great start in the AHL. That much wasn’t lost on Babcock.

Let’s face it, though; this is as much about the Leafs’ other two goalies as it is about Sparks (whose name inspired a very obscure reference in this post’s headline).

In Bernier’s case, there’s an “enough’s enough” feel:

Meanwhile, James Reimer‘s not quite healthy enough to play yet, so the window of opportunity is open for Sparks … a little bit.

Sparks will get a chance to make an impression, even if it’s just a small one.

Video: Dylan Larkin adds to his rookie goals lead

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So far, the 2015-16 crop of rookies is living up to the hype, if not exceeding it. Connor McDavid‘s unfortunate injury hasn’t even derailed this year’s crop.

The Detroit Red Wings are watching their own blue chip blossom, as Dylan Larkin is making an instant impact.

No. 71 scored his 10th goal of the season against the Florida Panthers on Sunday, fattening his rookie goals lead.

He still needs five points to match rookie points leader Artemi Panarin, though.

Latest report leaves Carey Price’s injury timeline fuzzy

Carey Price
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There’s one thing we seem to know about Carey Price‘s injury situation: he first got hurt stepping on a puck on Oct. 29, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

Contrary to earlier reports about him missing about a month, it sounds like his window of recovery is still up in the air (which, to be fair, could mean that he’ll still miss about a month when it’s all said and done).

ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reports that Price underwent testing with Montreal’s team doctor on Saturday and is expected to go through more; we may not know more about his expected injury timeline until early this coming week.

So, basically, Price’s situation is fuzzier than his mustache right now.

Leg injuries can be tricky anyway, so we shouldn’t be too surprised that there are mixed signals regarding Price, and this may remain a fluid situation for some time.

(But we’ll hopefully know more soon enough.)