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Frederik Andersen of the Toronto Maple Leafs makes a stop against the New York Rangers during an NHL game on Dec. 22, 2018.Claus Andersen/Getty Images

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ new year’s resolution is to be the Toronto Maple Leafs.

In other words, the NHL team they potentially can be once injured players Frederik Andersen, Zach Hyman and Tyler Ennis are back and if William Nylander finally finds his scoring touch.

“We’d like to do that for sure,” Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said Wednesday, invoking the only team ahead of the Leafs right now, the deep and healthier Tampa Bay Lightning.

“You look at a team like Tampa [that’s] got the ability to really play their lines,” he said. “I don’t know if you notice, the games we lose we overplay our [best] guys because we’re chasing the game. The games we win we get good minutes out of everybody because you’re not chasing the game.

“So that’s one of those things. It’s start on time, play everybody, try to make everyone important. That’s how you have team success.”

The problem is, that will not start Thursday when the Leafs meet the Minnesota Wild at 2 p.m. in a rare weekday home afternoon game (it is a promotion aimed at children). Andersen is still recovering from a groin injury and will miss his fourth consecutive game. Hyman (sprained ankle) is also still skating by himself, while Ennis (broken ankle) is much longer away from playing.

Andersen’s status is officially day-to-day, although Babcock would not say if he thinks Andersen could play in Saturday’s game against the Vancouver Canucks: “I don’t ask him. When [the medical staff] tell me, I’ll know.”

So for now the Leafs will have to soldier on with backup goaltender Garret Sparks and Connor Brown playing with John Tavares and Mitch Marner. There were also a couple of changes on the fourth line just before Christmas, with centre Per Lindholm shifted to left wing and farmhand Trevor Moore up to fill in for Ennis.

This is not to say times are difficult. The Leafs had a five-game winning streak going through the period when Andersen was injured, although it ended with a disappointing loss to the New York Islanders on Dec. 29, spoiling Tavares’s first game against his former team.

However, Sparks, 25, has struggled in the backup’s role and still has not seized his chance to show his stuff regularly despite starting the past four games. The Leafs acquired veteran minor-leaguer Michael Hutchinson after Andersen’s injury and he may make his debut as Sparks’s backup on Thursday.

“The backup goalie position is a hard position mentally,” Babcock said. “There’s a lot of veteran guys doing it. You don’t see as many kids doing it. There’s a reason for it. It’s mentally hard. [Sparks] is getting an opportunity right now to show what he has.

“That’s what you’re always hoping for as you prepare in life, your opportunity. When you get your opportunity you want to show you’re ready for that opportunity. That’s the challenge.”

The other issue for the team is to get Nylander going. In 11 games since he finally signed a contract on Dec. 1, Nylander has no goals and two assists. Babcock will try him again on Thursday with his old partner Auston Matthews in an effort to get the goals flowing. Andreas Johnsson will play left wing and Kasperi Kapanen, who filled in so well on the right side in Nylander’s absence, was moved to Nazem Kadri’s line.

Heading into the Christmas break, Nylander expressed his frustration several times about the scoring drought. Matthews feels his pain, so much so he is thinking more about Nylander’s plight than the fact he himself has not scored in four games.

“I think he’s going to score a goal and the weight of the world will be off his shoulders,” Matthews said, noting Nylander missed a quarter of the season because of his contract troubles. “It’s just a matter of time. Hopefully, once one comes it will starting going for him.

“It’s really tough when you haven’t played a hockey game in over five or six months and you’re just stepping into game No. 30. In the last few years we played together and we’ve had really good chemistry. We created a lot of offence. I told him I’ll definitely be looking for him [Thursday].”

Only three of the Leafs’ 10 games in January are on the road, which Tavares thinks will help them as the regular season winds down and the competition grows harder as teams fight for playoff positions. Then, as long as they are lucky with injuries, the Leafs can use their depth to their advantage.

“The way we went through December was a lot of hockey, a lot of games on the road, to going into the Christmas break fairly well,” Tavares said. “Now we’ve had quite a few days off to rest up and we have a favourable month schedule-wise in January to take advantage of.

“[The] key all year to have success and sustain success and consistency is the depth you need within an organization at multiple positions. When you are pretty healthy, it just makes you that much harder to play against.”

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