Andersen returning to Maple Leafs' net against reeling Avalanche
Starter missed 6 games with groin injury, illness; Sparks back as backup
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.
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.
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."
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
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