BUFFALO, N.Y. – Consider it the first day of the rest of Matt Martin’s life.
To say he was tested during a six-week, 18-game stretch as a healthy scratch by the Toronto Maple Leafs would be putting it mildly. The veteran winger is a proud guy. And he’d never previously been sat down for more than one game at a time.
That’s why there was a mix of emotions when Martin arrived at KeyBank Center on Monday morning and found out that he’d be playing against the Buffalo Sabres later that night.
“I don’t know if there’s pressure,” said Martin. “I’ve been around long enough to kind of be past that. I think you do what you do and you’ve got to keep it simple. I think Babs says all the time: ‘Just do your job.’ I think once you start trying to overthink it and start trying to do too much, it’s only going to bite you.
“A little bit of a nervous energy, I guess, going back in there. It’s going to be interesting early on with the pace and just trying to make plays and not turn pucks over and then go from there. I’m excited more than I am nervous or feeling pressure.”
The Leafs held an optional morning skate, so it wasn’t entirely clear how the lineup would shake out. Martin is most likely replacing Dominic Moore on the fourth line, with Connor Carrick drawing back in on the bottom defensive pair for Roman Polak.
Head coach Mike Babcock was unhappy with Toronto’s performance in a 5-2 loss to Washington in Saturday’s Stadium Series game at Navy – dropping them to 0-1-2 on this road trip.
His message for Martin was relatively simple: “Just go out and work hard and do what you do.”
“I think it’s real important that each guy understands his own game and how they play and how they go about their business,” said Babcock. “Then when you get your opportunity go out and do that.”
Martin has performed better this season than last – with three goals, 11 points and a 49 per cent Corsi rating – but got removed from a struggling lineup when Kasperi Kapanen was recalled from the American Hockey League in late January.
It was part of a decision from Babcock to play with more speed through the lineup and the Leafs went 13-2-0 in Martin’s first 15 games as a scratch.
There may be an opportunity for him now with Monday’s game against the lottery-bound Sabres being the first of four meetings between the teams over four weeks – games that could take on a nasty edge.
Martin was frustrated during the extended run in the press box. He still has two years remaining on the free-agent contract he signed in Toronto and was mentioned in trade rumours before last week’s deadline.
Now, he’s hoping to start fresh.
“When it first starts you think it’s just going to be a couple [games] and then I think we hit a month not too long ago,” said Martin. “It definitely dragged on for awhile. Some days are harder than others, but you’ve got to continue to be positive and continue to work hard.
“If you don’t, when you do get in the lineup and you’re not ready for it, it’s not going to help you out too much.”