The Toronto Maple Leafs have their No. 1 goalie back in the fold.
Frederik Andersen will get the start when Toronto hosts the Colorado Avalanche on Monday night at Scotiabank Arena.
The 29-year-old netminder hasn’t played since Dec. 22 because of a groin injury. Andersen served as the backup for two games immediately before and after the NHL’s Christmas break, but was then placed on injured reserve and hasn’t dressed for the Leafs’ last five outings.
He had originally targeted Saturday’s home game against the Boston Bruins, which Toronto lost 3-2, only to be cut down by a flu bug that helped further delay his return.
“It sucks to look from the outside and see the guys playing without you,” Andersen said following the morning skate. “You want to be part of the team and part of the battle.”
Leafs backup Garret Sparks (concussion) will also be back in the lineup after taking two shots off the mask in a practice earlier this month that cost him five games.
Michael Hutchinson started the last five outings for Toronto on an emergency basis with both Andersen and Sparks sidelined.
“Hutch did a real nice job,” Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said. “He came in and did everything he could for us and gave us an opportunity.”
Despite his absence, Andersen still sits tied for third in the NHL with 20 wins, while his .923 save percentage and 2.50 goals-against average are first and fifth, respectively, among goalies with at least 25 appearances.
The Dane won three straight games before being forced out of action by the first groin injury of his career – one that bothered him most of December.
While he’s set to make his return, Andersen was coy when asked if the ailment is 100 per cent healed.
“I’ve been working hard on making sure it feels well and feels good to play on, and is something that won’t linger,” Andersen said. “That’s why we took a little bit extra time to make sure I was feeling great.
“If I really had to play I could have pushed it a little bit sooner, but we tested our patience a little bit in trying to get it fixed.”
Toronto, which entered Monday just two points up on Boston for second in the Atlantic Division, has lost four of its last six games and three of its last four at home.
Colorado comes in having dropped nine of its last 10 outings (1-7-2).
Acquired from the Florida Panthers to provide the organization some crease depth on Dec. 29, Hutchinson was 2-3-0 with a .914 save percentage, a 2.65 GAA and a shutout for the Leafs.
Sparks is 6-2-1 with .905 save percentage and a 3.01 GAA this season.
“Freddie’s our guy, hasn’t played in a long time,” Babcock said. “The doctors and the trainers were real careful to make sure. Obviously he’s a real important part of the team. He’s had a good rest and good time off.
“Between the goalie coach and him, they say he’s up and running and ready to go so he gets his opportunity.”