TORONTO â€” Frank Corrado had been a healthy scratch in 35 of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ first 42 games this season, but head coach Mike Babcock suggested on Thursday morning that the “ball’s in the player court.”
“As much as everyone thinks the coach decides, the coach doesn’t decide, the players decide,” Babcock said. “We watch them and whoever plays the best (plays).”
Corrado got the rarest of opportunities with Morgan Rielly sidelined on Thursday night, playing for just the second time all season in a 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers. The 23-year-old predictably struggled at points in his first game action since Nov. 12, taking two penalties in just under 12 minutes.
A pair of lost puck battles with Rangers winger Chris Kreider in the opening frame eventually led to Brady Skjei opening the scoring for New York.
“A little inconsistent,” Corrado said of his performance afterward. “A couple of plays I’d like to have back for sure, but not bad.”
Corrado said he would’ve liked to have displayed more poise with the puck, but felt he was moving his feet and “making the right plays” for the most part.
The Toronto native started the night alongside Connor Carrick, but that pairing quickly showed signs of trouble (33 per cent possession in four minutes) and was broken up after a period.
The Leafs would be hard-pressed to make much of an evaluation of Corrado’s performance against the Rangers because, despite Babcock’s assertion otherwise, the former Vancouver Canucks draft pick just hasn’t gotten an opportunity to show anything beyond practice.
He played in just the one game over the first 2 1/2 months of the season, banished to the press box almost without exception. His lone game action came against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on the second leg of a back-to-back in mid-November. He was finally sent to the American Hockey League on a two-week conditioning stint earlier this month, playing in seven games for the Toronto Marlies before returning to the Leafs.
This followed a similar first season in Toronto, during which he played three times over the season’s first three months. The club still opted to bring him back on a one-year contract last summer.
Babcock said Corrado had a “perfect opportunity” in front of him against the Rangers.
“He just played a whole bunch of games and he should be feeling as good about himself as he possibly can,” Babcock said. “He’s not rusty. He’s none of those things. He’s played lots. Get in there and play.”
The coach declined to comment on Corrado’s performance following the frustrating loss to the Rangers, which saw the Leafs three-game win streak come to an end. The club, which had picked up 21 of a possible 26 points in the previous 13 games, struggled especially on the back-end without Rielly, bouncing between a series of wary pairings.
“Obviously the back end was in trouble lots tonight,” Babcock said. “We weren’t very good.”
Rielly, the Leafs’ top defenceman, is listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury and his status is in doubt for a weekend affair against the Ottawa Senators. Whether that means another shot for Corrado is unclear.
“It’s a game; you want to play,” Babcock said. “You (don’t) want to go home thinking about whether you’re in the lineup, you want to know you’re in the lineup.”
Jonas Siegel, The Canadian Press