Leafs make Gardiner healthy scratch vs. Pittsburgh

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Toronto defenseman Jake Gardiner will miss his first game of the season on Wednesday, as he’s being made a healthy scratch for tonight’s contest in Pittsburgh.

I’ve just got to make better decisions with the puck,” Gardiner told Sportsnet upon learning of his demotion. “I wasn’t very good last game so I think I just need to improve on taking care of the puck a little bit better.”

Gardiner, 23, had a rough outing in Monday’s 6-0 loss to Columbus and will be replaced in the lineup by Paul Ranger. Under normal circumstances, Gardiner’s demotion wouldn’t be a big issue — but given how things transpired for him last year in Toronto, it will garner additional attention.

Gardiner was in and out of the Leafs’ lineup (and Randy Carlyle’s doghouse) last season, to the point where Gardiner’s agent, Ben Hankinson, utilized the #FreeJakeGardiner hashtag on Twitter. The move caused a minor kerfuffle within the Toronto organization — “I’m not sure it was well thought out,” said then-Marlies coach Dallas Eakins — but Gardiner did rebound to appear in six of Toronto’s seven playoff games against Boston, finishing second among d-man scorers with five points.

Gardiner has no goals and five assists in 24 games this year, averaging over 20 minutes per night.