With the injury bug biting the Toronto Maple Leafs
' top two pivots, James van Riemsdyk
is suddenly the centre of attention.
The 24-year-old left-winger has been moved into the middle on the Maple Leafs' top line between Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. At least that's the way the team practised on Monday. With three more days until their next game -- at home against New Jersey on Friday -- things could still change.
Typically, van Riemsdyk was prepared to do his part to help replace David Bolland, who had surgery Sunday in Vancouver to repair a severed tendon
on the outside of his left ankle, and Tyler Bozak, who is on long-term injured reserve with a hamstring injury. Bozak cannot return to the lineup until Nov. 21 at the earliest.
"Whatever they need me to do to help the team win games, I'm fine with," van Riemsdyk said.
The good news is van Riemsdyk does have two years of centre experience from his college days with the University of New Hampshire. The bad news is he has been among the NHL's most productive left-wingers, currently 35th in league scoring with seven goals and 13 points in as many games.
He understands there will be an adjustment.
"When you are used to playing a certain position you know just naturally where to go and now maybe you have to think about it a little more," van Riemsdyk said. "I think it's a lot about timing, being in the right place at the right time so you aren't losing your speed. You get it through repetition and experience. It's something I'll continue to work at."
Lupul, who has seven goals and 11 points in 13 games, is confident in van Riemsdyk's ability to adjust.
"He'll be alright," Lupul said. "There's a learning curve, like anything, and he'll be expected to do some different things, but he's a good hockey player. He understands the game offensively and defensively and I'm sure the coaches are going to talk to him a lot and we're going to talk to him a lot on the ice. We'll figure it out.
"You don't make it to the NHL by just knowing how to do one thing. There will be a little more expected from him defensively than when he plays the wing, but if he applies himself and works hard he'll be fine."Dynamic duos
Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle often talks about keeping two players together on a line and subbing in the third player depending on the situation. That is one of the reasons why he elected to move van Riemsdyk into the middle to keep him with Kessel.
There was another reason, though.
"He's played there before, so it doesn't take rocket science to go in that direction," Carlyle said. "When a player has previously played that position, at the college level and not the pro level, we think he's more of the fit right now and we'll see what happens in the next couple of days."Live and learn
Carlyle thought about moving van Riemsdyk into the middle in the past, and when he mentioned it, it got tongues wagging.
"I made that comment in the summer and I didn't realize it was that big news," Carlyle said with a laugh. "That was the first test that made me think maybe I should shut my mouth. Just the way things unfolded we were never really pressed into having to try about it. We thought about it and just felt it was better suited to go in the other direction."
Strength down the middle
Carlyle said the centre position is very important to successful hockey teams. With Bolland and Bozak out, the Maple Leafs will be hard pressed to keep their winning season going.
"You can talk to all the masterminds that build hockey clubs and they say they're going to build down the middle," Carlyle said. "It starts from the goaltender to the defence to the centres. That's how important they are, and if you look at the successful teams there are two that come to mind: Pittsburgh has [Sidney] Crosby and [Evgeni] Malkin and Boston has [David] Krejci and [Patrice] Bergeron. The Staal brothers [Eric and Jordan] in Carolina, too.
If you look at the big programs, the big hockey clubs, teams that have had a fair amount of success over the last little while, you can always point to their centre-ice position as being a solid position for them."
Added Lupul: "Big centres are tough to play against down low. Guys like the Staal brothers have a similar frame to JVR so hopefully he can be that same kind of a presence down low. Once you get the puck it's the same. Nothing extra expected from him there."The lines
Aside from the van Riemsdyk-Lupul-Kessel line, the Maple Leafs' trios at practice included Nazem Kadri between Mason Raymond and David Clarkson, Jay McClement between Nikolai Kulemin and Troy Bodie, and Trevor Smith at centre with Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren.
Carter Ashton has one game remaining in his two-game suspension for hitting from behind.Rare Friday home game
The Maple Leafs have not hosted a home regular-season game since Dec. 23, 2005 when the Boston Bruins were in town.Work harder or longer
Carlyle at one point stopped a drill and told the players they needed to up the intensity. It was around 1 p.m. and Carlyle warned the players, "We have the ice booked until 4:00."
Afterwards Carlyle explained what he wants from his players in possibly four days of practice this week.
"We can play smarter," Carlyle said. "We are doing some things that are really not giving us the best chance [to win]. Some of things that we have been doing have crept into our game and they have become more of the norm than the abnormal. That is our job as a coaching staff to eliminate those things."
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