Leafs hop­ing Marner can play Satur­day against Sen­a­tors

Star rookie listed as day-to-day

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS - BY JONAS SIEGEL

He’s yet to miss a game be­cause of an ap­par­ent right shoul­der in­jury but that hasn’t stopped Toronto Maple Leafs play­ers from be­ing asked what it might be like with­out ex­cit­ing rookie Mitch Marner at the rink.

“I mean he’s still here,’’ vet­eran cen­tre Tyler Bozak said cheer­fully. “He’s not gone for good. We still see him ev­ery day!’’

Marner didn’t prac­tise Fri­day morn­ing but head coach Mike Bab­cock was still hope­ful he’d be avail­able to play Satur­day against the Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors. The 19-year-old is listed as dayto-day, which would sug­gest the Leafs will avoid their lead­ing scorer miss­ing sig­nif­i­cant play­ing time.

“Ob­vi­ously if I’m in charge he’s in,’’ Bab­cock said of Satur­day’s game, a date against the Carolina Hur­ri­canes to fol­low Sun­day. “If the doc­tors are in charge they’ll de­cide (Satur­day).’’

Marner was in­jured Wed­nes­day night when he fell awk­wardly into the boards dur­ing the sec­ond pe­riod of a 5-2 loss to the Colum­bus Blue Jack­ets. He re­turned to play two shifts in the third be­fore ex­it­ing for good.

His ab­sence, even for a game, would surely be felt by the Leafs (63 points), who en­ter Fri­day’s play hold­ing down the Eastern Con­fer­ence’s fi­nal wild- card spot just one point ahead of the New York Is­lan­ders and two in front of the Philadel­phia Fly­ers. Toronto is also one point be­hind the Boston Bru­ins (64) and two in back of Ot­tawa for the fi­nal two At­lantic Division play­off spots.

Marner is en­joy­ing a ban­ner sea­son, on pace to smash the fran­chise rookie records for most points and as­sists. He’s lead­ing Toronto in both cat­e­gories with 33 as­sists and 48 points in 56 games and tied with Win­nipeg’s Pa­trik Laine for tops in NHL rookie scor­ing.

A shifty winger of con­sid­er­able skill, vi­sion and wily pass­ing abil­ity, Marner has been es­pe­cially po­tent since Jan. 1, record­ing 22 points in 21 games. He’s a point be­hind Con­nor McDavid in that stretch and tied for 10th among all NHL play­ers en­ter­ing Fri­day’s play.

Bab­cock de­scribes Marner as the driv­ing force of a line that in­cludes vet­er­ans Bozak and James van Riems­dyk.

“He’s a huge part of our team ob­vi­ously,’’ van Riems­dyk said. “You’ve seen the kind of suc­cess that he’s had al­ready.

“It’s just an op­por­tu­nity for other guys to step up now and play dif­fer­ent roles if that’s the case and we’ll just see what hap­pens and go from there.’’

Con­nor Brown slid into Marner’s usual spot at prac­tice Fri­day and would play there if Marner can’t go against the Sen­a­tors. Surg­ing 23-year-old Josh Leivo would stand to take his spot on the power play with rookie Nikita Sosh­nikov also get­ting back into the lineup po­ten­tially after sit­ting re­cently due to in­jury.

Scratched a great deal this sea­son, Leivo re­sponded with a rare op­por­tu­nity to play this week. He’s flour­ished with five points in two games, in­clud­ing a ca­reer-high three points in a 7-1 win Tues­day over the Is­lan­ders.

Bab­cock called Leivo the team’s best for­ward “by far’’ when he pro­duced two as­sists against Colum­bus.

Brown, mean­while, has reg­is­tered 12 goals and 24 points in his rookie year.

Colum­bus Blue Jack­ets de­fense­man Ryan Mur­ray, left, works for the puck against Toronto Maple Leafs for­ward Mitchell Marner dur­ing the first pe­riod of an NHL hockey game in Colum­bus, Ohio, Wed­nes­day.

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