NHL

Andersen returning to Maple Leafs' net against reeling Avalanche

The Toronto Maple Leafs will have No. 1 netminder Frederik Andersen back in the crease for Monday night's home game against Colorado. He was sidelined since Dec. 28 with a groin injury before the flu forced him to miss Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Boston Bruins.

Starter missed 6 games with groin injury, illness; Sparks back as backup

Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen will be in goal Monday night against visiting Colorado following a six-game absence with a groin injury and illness. (Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press)

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 at 7 p.m. on Monday 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 six 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."

Garret Sparks, who  is 6-2-1 this season with a 3.00 goals-against average and .905 save percentage in 10 games, returns in a backup role after suffering his first concussion when hit by a couple of William Nylander shots off the mask during practice on Jan. 2.

'He came in and did everything he could for us and gave us an opportunity [to win games].— Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock on fill-in goalie Michael Hutchinson

"We've got to find a way to play better and win games no matter who's in net.," Babcock said Sunday.

Sparks reportedly has made adjustments to his mask, adding some padding and rubber shocks between the cage and mask to take some pressure off shots that might strike those areas.

Tops in save percentage

Michael Hutchinson, who was 2-3-0 with a .914 save percentage and 2.64 GAA in five emergency starts with Andersen and Sparks sidelined, worked with assistant coaches following Sunday's main practice session.

"Hutch did a real nice job," Babcock said Monday morning. "He came in and did everything he could for us and gave us an opportunity."

Despite sitting out Toronto's last seven games — including two outings where he dressed as the backup immediately before and after the Christmas break — Andersen still sits third in the NHL in wins (20), while his .923 save percentage and 2.50 goals-against average puts him first and fifth, respectively, among goalies with at least 25 appearances.

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.

Avs 1-7-2 in past 10 games

"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.

The Leafs did plenty of good things in the loss to the Bruins — a fourth defeat in their last six — but were undone by two gaffes from the No. 2 defence pair of Jake Gardiner and Nikita Zaitsev late in the second period that flipped a 2-1 advantage to a 3-2 deficit.

"We played really well," Toronto centre Auston Matthews said. "But you make a couple costly mistakes and it ends up in the back of your net."

Forwards in a funk

Matthews, who has just one goal in nine games, had a great opportunity to tie things with four minutes left against Boston only to see the puck roll off his stick at the critical moment.

He's not the only Toronto forward currently in a funk. Nylander has one goal in 16 games since his contract impasse ended at the beginning of last month, while Nazem Kadri has scored once in his last 17.

"It's just the way it's been going as of late," Matthews, who had a goal called back for offside against the Nashville Predators last Monday, said of his own struggles. "These last few games, especially our line [with Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson], we've done a lot good things.

"It's only a matter of time for the puck to start going in."

With files from CBC Sports

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