The Toronto Maple Leafs have started 2022 with some good luck as it appears they will have a fully-healthy forward group at their disposal when they host the Ottawa Senators on Saturday.
Mitch Marner returns after missing most of December with a shoulder injury.
“We’re getting one of the best wingers in the game [back],” Maple Leafs captain John Tavares said. “Looking forward to getting his impact back for us, he’s a difference-maker for sure, pumped for him.”
Marner was injured in a team practice on Dec. 3 when he was involved in a collision with defenseman Jake Muzzin.
Marner has six goals and 15 assists in 21 games this season.
Rasmus Sandin will also return from a leg injury he suffered on Dec. 5, when he was hit by Winnipeg Jets defenseman Neal Pionk in a knee-on-knee collision.
The defenseman has eight assists in 25 regular-season games.
The Leafs were set to play the Vancouver Canucks on Dec. 18 when four different players entered COVID-19 protocol one day prior. The list grew into double digits on subsequent days and forced the team to pause all team-related activities.
When the team resumed practice on Dec. 26, players began to exit protocol.
Only one player, Timothy Liljegren, is in COVID-19 protocol as of Jan. 1. He was placed on the list on Dec. 29, after taking part in the team’s previous two practice sessions.
Before the team took the ice for the optional morning skate on Saturday, Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said defenseman Morgan Rielly, Muzzin and forward William Nylander were “question marks” for the game against the Senators, as they were among the latest to exit protocol. As the optional skate session neared an end, Muzzin and Teemu Kivihalme and forward Nick Ritchie were the last players remaining to do extra work, signalling that Rielly and Nylander are likely in the lineup tonight and Muzzin will sit out.
Muzzin was the latest to come out of protocol when the team announced it on Dec. 26. Rielly entered protocol on Dec. 23 and Nylander entered Dec. 24.
Both Nylander and Rielly told reporters on Friday they didn’t experience any symptoms while in quarantine.
Ontario recently changed isolation protocols for COVID-19 from 10 days to five days in line with the NHL and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and that allowed Muzzin, Rielly and Nylander to rejoin the team on Friday.
It’s likely the Leafs are being cautious with Muzzin, given he’s only six days removed from entering protocol.
With Muzzin and Liljegren out of the lineup, it’s expected that Alex Biega will make his Maple Leafs debut. The Montreal native signed a one-year, two-way contract with the team back in July, after previous stops with the Vancouver Canucks and Detroit Red Wings.
“Unfortunately I haven’t been on winning teams where come trade deadline, they take a back seat to winning and look at development,” Biega said earlier this week about signing with Toronto. “It’s no secret, I’m obviously 33-years-old and been in the league, the opportunity to come play for a team that’s a Stanley Cup contender, that was exciting for me.”
Michael Bunting – Auston Matthews – Mitch Marner
Alex Kerfoot – John Tavares – William Nylander
Ilya Mikheyev – David Kampf – Ondrej Kase
Pierre Engvall – Jason Spezza – Wayne Simmonds
Morgan Rielly – TJ Brodie
Rasmus Sadin – Justin Holl
Travis Dermott – Alex Biega
Jack Campbell (starter)