TORONTO – No team may have leaned harder on one line last season than the Maple Leafs. Because of insufficient depth and a reluctance toward regular employment of a fourth line, Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk ended up as some of the most taxed forwards in all of hockey. All three posted new career-highs in average ice-time a year ago, right in there amongst the likes of Sidney Crosby, John Tavares and Ryan Getzlaf. It was likely a detriment in the end. Over-used and likely worn down, Torontos top guns faded down the stretch as the club spiraled disastrously out of a once certain playoff position. Its obviously a long season and you get worn down, Bozak acknowledged. Nearly a quarter of the way into this new season, the Leafs reliance (or overreliance) of their primary offensive weapons has been altered. With increased depth and more accepting use of that depth, Kessel, Bozak and van Riemsdyk are seeing fewer minutes in a shift that may end up benefiting the Leafs in the long run this season. After each pushing nearly 21 minutes a night a year ago, Kessel, Bozak and van Riemsdyk have all dipped below the 20-minute average through 20 games this fall, the ice-time of Kessel and Bozak in particular cut by about two minutes per night. That may not seem like much, but come March those 160-plus saved minutes of wear and tear (or nearly three full games) could mean just that much more energy when the race to the postseason heats up. Obviously we want to play as much as we can every night, said Bozak, playing less than 19 minutes per game, but I think later in the season if you do play maybe two, three minutes less a night that you will be a little more fresh coming down the home stretch. Average Ice Time 2014-15 2013-14 Difference James van Riemsdyk 19:48 21:03 1:15 Tyler Bozak 18:53 20:56 2:03 Phil Kessel 18:34 20:30 1:56 Average Even-Strength Ice-Time 2014-15 2013-14 James van Riemsdyk 15:13 16:27 Tyler Bozak 15:09 17:03 Phil Kessel 15:10 17:30 I think it does make a big difference, said head coach, Randy Carlyle, but you talk to the elite players they say you play me more Ill play better. Thats the reality of what happens with it. Carlyle, though, is not only using his top line less this season, but less frequently in the most demanding of situations against other top lines – though to mostly success against Steven Stamkos on Thursday – and more frequently in the offensive zone. His history of heavy usage from top players dates back to Anaheim. Like Kessel and company, Getzlaf and Corey Perry, the Ducks two top weapons, were extended heavily while Carlyle was in charge, their ice-time scaling back since he was fired in the winter of 2011. For me Im not the biggest, strongest guy so I think a few less minutes a night will save me a little bit extra strength and stuff by the end of the year, Bozak said. Carlyle has had to change his ways some with new management in Torontos fold. Before Brendan Shanahan was hired as the Leafs president, the head coach had a habit of dressing one and sometimes two enforcers, players who garnered little ice-time and produced almost nothing offensively. He sometimes went even further, dressing an additional defenceman in lieu of that 12th man up front. All of which meant increased reliance and dependence on the top line, which provided a heavy chunk of Torontos offence last season. Come March those players predictably slowed down. Kessel had only four goals and 10 points. van Riemsdyk had eight points in 15 games and only one goal and three points in April. Their fall-off may have had something to do with their participation in the Olympics for Team USA, but returning from that Sochi adventure to play nearly 22 minutes a night – in a condensed schedule no less – probably didnt help much to keep them fresh down the stretch. Towards the end of the year its tough to feel fully healthy, but I mean, there was a lot of different guys that were dealing with the same thing so its tough to make excuses about that, van Riemsdyk said, noting the relaxed schedule this season, one with no lockout or Olympics and thus no condensed pace of play. Under Shanahans direction, the Leafs went about improving their depth in the summer, adding versatile forwards like Daniel Winnik, Mike Santorelli and Leo Komarov in free agency – each of whom has been a positive in some regard so far. Carlyle has changed his tuned slightly with those players at his disposal, veering toward use of nine forwards on more even terms. We felt if we could develop some trust in all nine forwards [that we could] expand a little bit more minutes from an offensive standpoint, said Carlyle following practice Friday. Hes even gotten some use out of a once forgotten fourth line, one that relies on skill rather than toughness and grit. Richard Panik has already scored four times in 19 games and is on pace for an astounding 17 goals despite averaging only nine minutes a night. Carlyle might even want to consider using the 23-year-old and his linemates – 21-year-old Josh Leivo and veteran, Trevor Smith – more often given their decent possession numbers and potential for additional offence. Smith has helped trim van Riemsdyks ice-time recently. Hes absorbed the 25-year-olds minutes on the penalty kill since being recalled from the Marlies earlier this month. For all the positive indicators, however, theres every chance the minutes for Kessel, Bozak and van Riemsdyk rise some in the second half, especially if the Leafs are chasing a playoff spot. Youll see that when you dont have success those minutes will go up because youre always pushing to have your offensive players on the ice, if youre playing catch-up in the games, Carlyle said. Lets face it, in the last 20 games of last year we were trying to catch up. Its a fine line because weve got to win games so youve got to take each game as it comes, said van Riemsdyk, who played more than 23 minutes 16 times last season, doing so only once so far this fall. There is some strategy to it, but if theres a situation where we need to be on the ice then were going to be on the ice. It all depends on the situation. Cheap Soccer Jerseys Authentic . Colorado came up big against Chicago last spring, and repeated that performance Tuesday night. 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Soccer Jerseys China . -- Kevin Stadler might be playing in the Masters for the first time, but hes already showing his old man a thing or two.HOUSTON -- James Harden and the Houston Rockets found their legs in time to get another big win. Harden scored 11 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter, helping Houston rally for a 100-92 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday night. Coming off an impressive 111-98 win at San Antonio on Christmas, coach Kevin McHale said he could tell the Rockets were "draggy" during the pregame shootaround. But they still managed to outscore the Grizzlies 34-20 in the final period of their third victory in four games. Harden struggled from the field, going 2 for 9, but was a career-best 22 of 25 from the free throw line. He made 9 of 11 foul shots in the final quarter while matching a Rockets single-game record for made free throws set by Sleepy Floyd in 1991. Harden because the first player in NBA history to register 27 points on two or fewer made field goals. "Just being aggressive, being aggressive," Harden said of the free throws. "I couldnt make a shot. I just tried to get to the rim. We were kind of stagnant through the middle of the game, especially the third quarter, so I just wanted to get in attack mode." Houston star Dwight Howard battled foul trouble for most of the game and was held to two points and six rebounds. He was whistled for his fifth foul with 7:52 left in the third and never returned to the action. McHale said he wanted to get Howard back in the game, but the centres back stiffened while he was on the bench, and he liked the energy reserve Donatas Montiejunas brought to the game. "D-Mo played with energy," McHale said. "We were having a hard time getting our energy up. Last night was a big game. . Guys put a lot of emotional and physical effort in last nights game, and I really extended guys, and I extended them again tonight." Howard said he felt OK, but the guys on the court were playing well, and he didnt want to mess up their rhythm. Montiejunas only had four points but he played 23 minutes, including all of the fourth quarter, and was able to help slow Zach Randolph, who scored five points while playing all the fourth. Randolph, who had a team-high 23 points and 17 rebounds, said the officiating played a big role in the loss. "It was the refs tonight," said Randolph, who received a technical late in the fourth. "Eight against five. The game in the second half, a man was shooting free throws every time. We were out thhere playing hard, and they were dictating the game.dddddddddddd It cant be like that. We are out there playing, too. "It was horrible refereeing, it was a horrible game they reffed tonight. Awful. They dictated the game. We are out there working as hard as them." The Rockets made up for Howards slow night with four players in double figures. Terrence Jones scored 20 points, and Chandler Parsons had 15 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. Jeremy Lin had 14 of his 18 points in the fourth. Trailing 76-66 with 10:55 to go, Houston used a 21-5 run over nearly six minutes to take an 87-81 lead on two Harden free throws with five minutes left. Lin powered the surge with 10 points, including two 3-pointers, and Harden added six points in the decisive stretch. "I just tried to stay aggressive," Lin said. "I know I had a lot of mistakes early on, and I am thankful to God that I got in a rhythm. We really didnt feel good out there. It was an ugly game all around." After trading 3-pointers, Harden extended Houstons lead to eight on a jumper with 1:49 remaining. Tayshaun Prince hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to five, but Houston went 8 for 10 at the line to close it out. The Rockets were just 5 for 24 from beyond the arc against the Grizzlies. But they made three 3s in the fourth quarter and enjoyed a dominant night at the line, making 33 of 40 free throws, compared to 11 for 20 for the Grizzlies. Memphis reserve James Johnson had 12 points, and Kosta Koufos had five points and 11 boards to help the Grizzlies to a 49-41 rebounding advantage, including a 20-7 margin on the offensive glass that led to 21 second-chance points. "I dont think it got away anywhere," Memphis coach Dave Joerner said. "They made shots, we didnt score, we had 12 points going into the last minute (of the fourth quarter). I think going on the road, it can be difficult. Theyre a good team, and they made plays." NOTES: Houston C Greg Smith missed his third consecutive game with a sprained right knee. ... Prince started after missing the last three games with left knee soreness. He finished with nine points. ... The Rockets re-hired Gersson Rosas to co-lead their scouting and player personnel department with Gianluca Pascucci. Rosas was hired as Dallas general manager in the off-season, but he left the Mavericks a little more than three months after being hired. ' ' '