Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Armstrong and Liles Return to the Leafs Tonight.

       The Toronto Maple Leafs got some good news tonight after a heartbreaking loss to Pittsburgh.  Both Colby Armstrong and John-Michael Liles return to the lineup after lengthy injuries.  The impact that this will have on the Maple Leafs could be enough to propel them to some positive results in the second half.

       Liles has been sidelined for the last 16 games due to a neck injury suffered after being hit in a game against Buffalo.  Liles insisted that it was not a concussion but rather a locking feeling he was getting in his neck that caused symptoms similar to ones seen in concussions.  Before the injury Liles had proven to be a great pickup for the Maple Leafs.  He was acquired in a trade with Colorado for a second round draft pick.  The Leafs also showed loyalty in signing Liles for an additional 4 years.  In 34
games this season Liles had 4 goals and 17 assists.  He was among the highest scoring defensemen in the league before he was hurt.  With his return it will be the first time in a while that the Maple Leafs defense will be completely healthy.  This will provide Toronto with the ability to rest some players such as rookie Jake Gardiner.

       Liles return also gives the Leafs even more speed in their lineup.  Liles can move the puck and is a smooth skater.  He will provide a boost to a powerplay that has struggled to put up goals in the new year and his skating and vision on the back end will provide speed through the neutral zone that will create more chances for the forwards.  Speed is the Leafs game and Liles will play right into this.  He also provides another leader in a young locker room.

       Colby Armstrong will return to the lineup for the first time since December 17th.  He has been plagued by injuries in his tenure in Toronto but when he does play Toronto seems to play a lot better.  His most recent injury was a concussion which is always a red flag in the NHL these days.  Armstrong plays hockey with an edge.  He gets into the dirty areas and plays the game hard.  He blocks shots, hits and can also provide some offense.  He is also a leader in the locker room and keeps his teammates loose as he is known to be a serious joker.  These are attributes that are important off the ice and keeps everyone focused on the fun of the sport when you may be going through a tough stretch.

       The lineup for Toronto is now as close to healthy as they have been all season.  Brian Burke and company can now get a better look at what they have in this team and if any moves need to be made prior to the deadline.  This will be a lineup that had Toronto has high as first in the Eastern Conference. After a rough game in Pittsburgh they get a second chance to stop a Penguins team that has now won eight games in a row.  If Toronto wants to make a push the time is now.  With a lot of divisional games left on the schedule the lineup must remain healthy and show that this is a team ready for the playoffs. While I do think some moves will be made I think this team has what it takes to get in to the playoffs.  And once a team is in I will never doubt their ability to go far.

       Due to the lineup additions the Leafs sent down forwards Nazem Kadri and defenseman Keith Aulie to the Toronto Marlies of the AHL.  This may cause even more rumours to swirl around those two names as they have been connected with potential moves to improve Toronto.  James Reimer will also get the start tonight after The Monster started the night before.  This will be a chance for Optimus Reim to get back on track.

       Overall the time is now for Toronto to make that push.  And Armstrong and Liles should help in improving the Leafs to a playoff level.  Remember to follow us on Twitter @leafsdinosbirds and be sure to look out for our second podcast this weekend.

**INFORMATION VIA TSN.CA, NHL.CA** 

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