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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Lupul back on ice as Leafs lineup starts to take shape

Posted: 09/19/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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TORONTO -- Joffrey Lupul knows he shouldn't have pushed it.

When the Toronto Maple Leafs winger with a history of lower-back issues felt the area tighten up before training camp started, he acknowledged rest would have been the best approach. When he tried to skate through it, the spasms cost him a week of time on the ice with teammates.

But after Lupul got through his first practice Wednesday, he was confident that mistake won't set him back too much as he tried to prepare for the start of the regular season.

"Obviously not the way I wanted to start the camp, but just happy everything's feeling better now," Lupul said. "We're taking it slow. It's obviously not the same way you'd probably treat an injury in the regular season. It's good that way. I guess time's on my side."

'Obviously not the way I wanted to start the camp, but just happy everything's feeling better now'

-- Joffrey Lupul

Barring a flare-up of back problems, Lupul is expected to get some pre-season games in before the Leafs visit the Montreal Canadiens for opening night Oct. 1. Starting with tonight's game against the Ottawa Senators, they have six left, so there are plenty of opportunities.

But Lupul's focus is on getting ready for games that matter. In that regard, Wednesday's practice -- which lasted almost two hours -- shed some light on what Toronto's forward lines could look like.

He skated on left wing with centre Tyler Bozak and right-winger Phil Kessel, a line that spent limited time together last season because the 29-year-old Lupul played just 16 games due to a broken arm and concussion.

James van Riemsdyk and David Clarkson skated together, though Nazem Kadri seems more likely to centre that line than Joe Colborne once things get underway. David Bolland between Mason Raymond and Nikolai Kulemin is also a possibility for the third line.

"I'm not exactly sure who's going to be playing with who," Lupul said. "I'm sure we'll be mixed and matched a little throughout the year, but I think it's a good mixture of speed and size. We've added some grit, and hopefully for some guys, some experience."

Some size was lacking from Leafs practice, given that enforcers Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren didn't skate with teammates. Orr, who has missed the start of camp with a leg bone bruise, skated before practice and could join team workouts over the weekend, according to coach Randy Carlyle.

McLaren is out at least two weeks with a fractured right pinky finger.

Lupul is fortunate he doesn't have to sit out that length of time with back problems, and Carlyle expects him to be available for pre-season duty soon. After playing the Senators, the Leafs have a home-and-home series with the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday and Sunday, which gives the team and Lupul some options.

"Hopefully the back-spasm issues are behind him," Carlyle said. "He's moving much better, felt much better and we think he's an option for us in the next couple exhibition games."

Joking that he wanted to mimic former NBA star Allen Iverson's famous rant about practices not being games, Lupul isn't stressed about coming out strong whenever he makes his pre-season debut.

"Everyone's focus is on Oct. 1, mine included," he said. "This isn't the time to really push through an injury, and we're not treating it like we would if it was the regular season or playoffs or anything right now. It's just making sure that everything's 100 per cent. We're being a lot more cautious than typically you would."

Once games count, don't expect Lupul to be noticeably more cautious because of the various injuries that have at times derailed his career.

"Obviously you want to try and stay healthy, but you've also got to stick with what got you there and what makes you successful," Lupul said. "I think it would be a mistake to say you can't go to the front of the net or can't get in the way of pucks or anything like that. I'm hoping to just have a little better luck, and we'll see."

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 19, 2013 D9

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