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Leafs notebook: Kessel out with flu, Bozak nears return

Phil Kessel reacts to a high stick during the second period of the Leafs season opener against the Ottawa Senators at the ACC in Toronto on Oct. 5, 2013.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

It's not another significant injury, but there was another missing body at practice on Monday for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Leafs have had only two forwards play all 20 games this season – Phil Kessel and Mason Raymond – and one member of that pair was absent at practice on Monday, which is rarely a good sign.

The diagnosis this time, however, wasn't that dire.

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"Phil Kessel? Flu," Leafs coach Randy Carlyle explained of his top scorer's absence. "We felt it was in best interests [of the team] to stay away. He'll visit with our doctors this afternoon. We'll see what medicine can be prescribed for him to be available tomorrow night."

After starting the season with 18 points in 13 games, Kessel has been quiet of late, with just one point in the Leafs last seven outings.

His lack of production, however, isn't related to the illness, as Carlyle said it was something that came up on Sunday following Toronto's 4-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres a night earlier.

As per usual, Kessel's roommate, linemate, best friend and interpreter, Tyler Bozak, was on hand to provide his take on the situation.

"I think he'll just hide in his room today," Bozak said. "I won't go spend much time with him. I haven't seen him. I just got a text from him that said last night he didn't feel too well then throughout the night he didn't feel too well. Hopefully it's just a small illness that he needed to take the day off and he'll be ready to go tomorrow."

As for Bozak, he skated with the Leafs at his first practice since injuring his hamstring back on Oct. 25, a span of three weeks that has been particularly hard on Toronto's centres.

The Leafs, however, could have both Bozak and Nazem Kadri (suspension) back for Thursday's game against the Nashville Predators, giving them their full cast of forwards (save for Dave Bolland) for the first time in a while.

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That means only one more game – Tuesday against the New York Islanders – with newcomer Peter Holland in the top-line centre spot.

"It was just kind of a freak accident – I tore the tendon and muscle in my hamstring," Bozak explained. "Obviously it hurt pretty bad for the first bit, but it's been getting a lot better. I think in the last week, it's made the most improvement."

As for his return date, Bozak is eligible to come off of long-term injured reserve on Thursday, but it appears more likely his first game will come on the weekend against Washington.

"I don't want to come back too early and hurt it," he said. "I also want to have [enough] strength where I'm not out there hurting the team. Be able to play at full ability."

The line of the day at practice went to captain Dion Phaneuf, who addressed these comments from Sabres enforcer John Scott after Saturday's game.

"I've been called a lot of things, but I haven't been called a princess," Phaneuf said. "There's a lot more stuff that I'm focused on than what happened on Saturday night. I'm not worried about it."

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