Tyler Bozak is back.
And, given the look of the Toronto Maple Leafs roster for Monday’s game against Columbus, so are most of his teammates.
The Leafs run of injuries and suspensions to primarily their forwards is over, as save for Dave Bolland, who will miss a while yet with an ankle injury, Bozak coming off of injured reserve after a month gives them a full complement of players for one of the first times this season.
Some of Toronto’s injuries issues have been overblown, as in all, they have only lost 63 man-games after 23 games, putting them on pace for a little more than 220 games lost this season.
That’s roughly in the middle of the pack in the NHL, but what’s been unique about the Leafs situation is they’ve had a run of losses almost entirely at centre, which is a tough position to lose bodies.
In goal and on the blueline, they’ve been rather healthy, with only sixth defenceman Mark Fraser missing 15 games with a knee injury.
Here’s a look at the core members of the team – including seven of their top nine forwards – that have missed time with injury or suspension:
James van Riemsdyk
To make way for Bozak, the Leafs are expected to sit newcomer Peter Holland along with Trevor Smith and defenceman Paul Ranger.
James Reimer will get his second consecutive start in goal after making 49 saves in Saturday’s win over the Capitals.
They’ll be facing a Blue Jackets team that is pretty banged up and that doesn’t really have the depth to compensate. Out of the lineup Monday will be Nathan Horton, Marian Gaborik, Brandon Dubinsky, Derek MacKenzie and Dalton Prout, adding to their 80 man-games lost to injury, which explain at least in part why Columbus has only three wins in its last 13 games (3-7-3).
They don’t produce a lot of offence and last year’s Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky has been a little less than ordinary, a bad combination for a team not especially high on talent to begin with.
“We still have a long season left so hopefully we can turn it around and make a push,” said defenceman James Wisniewski, the team’s leading scorer with 16 points in 22 games.
What the Jackets do do is work extremely hard, as was on display in their 5-2 win over the Leafs back on Oct. 25, the game where Bozak tore his hamstring on a freak play behind the net.
Even with their absences, Columbus isn’t a team to be taken lightly.
They will likely be desperate in this one after being thumped by Edmonton and Vancouver last week as part of a bizarre road swing that has had them play five Canadian teams in nine days.
“We gotta go with what we’ve got,” Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said. “We need certain players to step up. We need more from them. They just have to be better with what they bring.”
Leafs projected lineup
JVR – Bozak – Kessel
Lupul – Kadri – Clarkson
Raymond – McClement – Kulemin
McLaren – Smithson – Orr
Gunnarsson – Phaneuf
Gardiner – Franson
Fraser – Rielly