Maple Leafs’ Spaling injured, out Monday; Bozak, Gardiner eyeing return Friday vs. Rangers

Photo Credit: Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY Sports

The injury news continues apace for the Toronto Maple Leafs with third-line centre Nick Spaling joining the growing list of walking wounded. He’ll be out of the lineup on Monday with an undisclosed injury.

Though the the Maple Leafs are hurting, it wasn’t all bad news on the injury front on Monday. Injured centre Tyler Bozak and banged up defenseman Jake Gardiner have now been on the ice for two consecutive days, and are nearing a return from their respective ailments.

Though Bozak (upper-body injury) is somewhat closer to returning to action, even going so far as to try to convince Leafs coach Mike Babcock to put him back into the lineup for Monday night’s game, it’s more likely that he’ll return to the lineup on Friday when the Maple Leafs face the New York Rangers. Gardiner’s injury (undisclosed) and his timeline for return are a bit more up in the air, but it’s possible that he could return for Friday’s game also.

Though Bozak and Gardiner have both been much maligned for their soft defensive play in recent years, they’ve both got off to an excellent start in the Mike Babcock era. Though he’s been supplanted as the club’s top-line centre by Nazem Kadri, Bozak currently leads all Maple Leafs forwards in shot-attempt differential and has yet to be on the ice for a goal against at 5-on-5. Small sample qualifiers are necessary, but it would seem that a more clearly defined supporting role suits Bozak.

“It’s nothing too serious. I should be able to get back here really soon,” Bozak said of his injury status, by way of TSN’s Jonas Siegel. “

Gardiner is playing top-pairing minutes at 5-on-5 and has similarly been Toronto’s best defenseman by the underlying metrics. His biggest impact upon returning to the lineup will probably be to resign Roman Polak to the press box.

“It makes us a better team,” said Babock on Sunday, when asked about the impact Gardiner and Bozak will have upon returning to action. “We’d like to have them back. We don’t have them right now.”

While Babcock knows that Gardiner and Bozak are credible NHL bodies at the very least, and can help his struggling club, he also seems to be excited by the flexibility of giving other players a shot.

“The way I look at it though is that Froese got to play,” Babcock said. ” Right now he was dash-three on the sheet, but wasn’t involved in any goals against at all, but he was good and I liked him.”

With Spaling out of the lineup on Monday, that’ll allow Peter Holland to draw back in. 

“When you’re on the third- or fourth-line, you’re on a tryout every night,” Babcock said of Holland on Monday, echoing the hackneyed old Brian Burke-era sales pitch for Marlies tickets. 

The Maple Leafs’ performance in the faceoff circle will be worth watching closely with Spaling and Bozak out. The two veteran pivots have been far and away the best faceoff men for the Maple Leafs, and they’re also the two centremen that Babcock has leaned on most heavily to win draws. 

Kadri’s ability to win possession between the hashmarks has been improved in the early going this season and Holland is winning faceoffs at a better than 50 percent clip, but against an Arizona Coyotes team that finished in the top-10 in faceoff win rate a year ago, this will be a big test.