When the Colorado Avalanche visit the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night, it could mark the return of key players on each team.
Toronto’s Mitch Marner, who has missed 11 games with a sprained ankle, practiced Monday and appeared set to return Wednesday as the Maple Leafs put Nick Shore on waivers Tuesday to make roster space.
Colorado’s Matt Calvert, who has missed six games with a concussion, and Gabe Landeskog, who has missed 15 games with an injured right leg, practiced Monday and could be ready to return Wednesday. The Avalanche did not have a scheduled practice Tuesday.
A well-rested Marner could help the Maple Leafs, who lost 6-1 on the road to the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night. Toronto tied the game in the third period, but allowed five straight goals. Despite the loss they have four wins in six games since Sheldon Keefe replaced Mike Babcock as coach.
“No question what (Marner) means to our group,” Maple Leafs captain John Tavares said. “He’s is a big leader for us and wants to do that with his play. We all know about his creativity, his ability to see the game, with the puck and without it, and how well he can play defensively for us. He’ll pick up seamlessly and the (Keefe) style will suit him well.”
“I’m just excited to join the team, it’s nice being back on the ice with them, joking around with them,” Marner said.
The Avalanche have been beset by injuries. Andre Burakovsky and Erik Johnson have upper-body injuries and did not practice Monday, nor did Colin Wilson. Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said Burakovsky might join the team during a three-game trip that starts in Toronto but Johnson and Wilson will not. Johnson is considered to be “week-to-week” and Wilson is scheduled to have surgery.
Despite the injuries, the Avalanche have won eight of their past 11 games — including three in a row — and continue to lead the league in scoring at 3.73 goals per game.
“I’ve been a part of injuries in the past with Columbus (Blue Jackets), similar to this, (but) I don’t think it was this crazy, especially a lot of our top guys being out,” Calvert said. “But they’ve done a great job. How many call ups? Our bottom six is loaded with Colorado Eagles (of the American Hockey League) and they’ve done a hell of a job and then the top guys have stepped up even more. It’s a new line combination every day.”
The Maple Leafs defeated the Avalanche 5-3 in Denver Nov. 23 in Keefe’s second game as coach, holding on after scoring four first-period goals.
They could not hold off the Flyers on Tuesday, however, as No. 1 goaltender Frederik Andersen allowed five goals on 28 shots. The Flyers’ fourth goal was into an empty net. They put two more past Andersen in the final minute.
“I thought we didn’t play a great game by any means but we’re right there throughout the hockey game,” Keefe said. “Then I thought we let it get away on us there at the end. First of all the 3-1 goal and then our response, our reaction after giving up the empty-net goal was not what we want to be about.”