TORONTO — With all the players missing from Monday’s practice, Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe joked at one point it felt like there were as many goalies as defencemen.
The good news is one of those netminders was Frederik Andersen.
Toronto’s No. 1 crease option and most important player joined teammates for his first full on-ice session since suffering a neck injury Feb. 3 in the first period of a loss to Florida.
“It’s feeling good,” Andersen said. “It’s been a good process so far, taking the right steps … I want to see how it responds.”
Keefe and Andersen wouldn’t commit to the goalie playing Tuesday when Toronto hosts Arizona — the first of four games in six nights — but it’s a good sign he hasn’t been ruled out.
“Looked really good,” Keefe said. “He put in a lot of work here while we were playing last week to get himself back up to speed.”
Andersen is 24-9-6 this season with .910 save percentage and 2.62 goals-against average. Despite missing a week of games, he still sat in a four-way tie for second in the NHL in victories heading into Monday’s action.
“I don’t want to go into specifics,” the 30-year-old Dane said when asked what the injury felt like. “I’m just making sure I can play to the level I need to be at and making sure there’s no symptoms.”
Andersen also didn’t want to say when exactly he got hurt against the Florida — an outing where was contacted at least twice in what would turn into a 5-3 loss.
“Definitely got bumped a couple times,” he said. “I can’t tell you which one was the worst. That’s just the nature of the position.”
The Leafs turned to backup goalie Michael Hutchinson after Andersen went down, but he wasn’t able to get the job done in two periods of work at home against Florida or in a 5-3 road loss to the New York Rangers two nights later. That forced the hand of general manager Kyle Dubas, who pulled the trigger on a trade with Los Angeles that saw netminder Jack Campbell and bruising forward Kyle Clifford head to Toronto for winger Trevor Moore and two draft picks.
Campbell won his first start, 5-4 over Anaheim at Scotiabank Arena on Friday, and was also solid in a 2-1 overtime setback in Montreal just 24 later.
“From the time I’ve been with him, he’s been a great guy,” Andersen said of Campbell. “Super-positive attitude.”
A 28-year-old former first-round pick whose journey to the NHL was winding, Campbell went for dinner with Andersen on Sunday and came away thoroughly impressed.
“What a great guy,” said the native of Port Huron, Mich. “Just calm, cool (and) collected, but genuine.
“I’ve heard through the grapevine around the league how nice of a guy is. So it’s nice to finally be on the same side and going after the same goal.”
Toronto has two immediate goals in mind as it continues to battle for a playoff spot — get as healthy as possible and figure out a way to shut things down in the third period.
Leafs captain John Tavares and defenceman Justin Holl both missed Monday’s practice due to illness, while wingers Zach Hyman (bumps and bruises) and Kyle Clifford (personal) were also absent. Blue-liner Tyson Barrie was sidelined for part of Monday’s drills, but forward William Nylander returned after missing two games with the flu.
Toronto is 21-2-2 when leading after two periods this season, but in the last week has blown late advantages in three separate games. The Leafs were up 3-1 on Florida early in the third, 3-1 and 4-3 on Anaheim, and 1-0 on Montreal.
While there isn’t one common theme in the collapses, the process of closing out games is being addressed.
“We have to keep our foot on the gas,” Toronto defenceman Jake Muzzin said. “If we’re up 5-2 or we’re up 1-0, let’s not sit back and let teams take it to us. We’ve got to be comfortable in those uncomfortable situations when a team’s pressing.”
The Leafs have given up the third-most goals in the NHL in the final period and overtime this season (75), which puts them ahead of only Detroit (83) and San Jose (76).
“Everything gets blown out of proportion,” Toronto forward Alexander Kerfoot said. “A bit of it was we were playing too loose the first couple games. We tried to shore things up defensively, and last game we kind of sat back a little too much and were overcompensating.
“We’d like to play better, but it’s a small sample size.”
Notes: Keefe said the expectation is for Tavares, Clifford, Hyman and Holl to be available Tuesday. … The Leafs are also without defencemen Morgan Rielly (foot) and Cody Ceci (ankle). … Ilya Mikheyev, who suffered a wrist laceration Dec. 27, skated for the first time since the injury before practice. The three-month timeline for the winger’s re-evaluation remains unchanged.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press