Leafs healthy again with chance to re-establish lead in North Division

Mitch Marner explained what makes Wayne Simmonds such a vital member of the Toronto Maple Leafs and why his return will boost the team.

TORONTO — Time off has done the Toronto Maple Leafs some good.

Coming out of a rare four-day break in this compressed season, Wayne Simmonds and Jack Campbell were both ready to return to the Leafs' lineup for Friday’s meeting with the Calgary Flames.

The team also planned to give Alex Galchenyuk his debut in part because of the comfort he was able to find during the extra practice days after being recalled from the American Hockey League earlier this week.

“We just felt that having four days off here between games and a couple practice days was a good chance for him to be around our team a little bit more,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said Friday morning. “He’s played very well with the Marlies and perhaps even more importantly he’s handled himself very well. He’s got lots of confidence, he’s really feeling good about his game, so I think the timing is right for (him to play for) all those reasons.

“I think he’s had a couple really good days here with us and I know he’s excited to play today.”

All told, the Leafs seemed to be exiting this break with a lot more energy than they had when it began. They dropped five of six games through a busy stretch of schedule and have seen the Edmonton Oilers pull alongside them at 40 points in the North Division, with the Winnipeg Jets just behind at 38.

This back-to-back mini-series with Calgary is an opportunity to re-establish solid footing and they’re doing it with a completely healthy lineup.

As they emerge from an encouraging stretch of rest and a reset, here’s a closer look at where things stand for some notable Leafs:

WAYNE SIMMONDS

The Wayne Train will see its first action since Feb. 6, when Simmonds was struck by a harmless-looking clearing attempt late in a game against the Vancouver Canucks and suffered a broken wrist.

Simmonds had scored twice that night, and five times in six games, and Keefe recently lamented how much his presence was missed around the dressing room and on the bench while he was recovering.

“He’s got a strong voice, a loud voice,” said Keefe. “A guy that would stand up and kind of yell or encourage the group from one end to the other. I think he also has a strong voice on the ice with his linemates and you know with the opposition.

“He’s got a lot of respect in the league, he’s earned that over his career.”

Simmonds will start on the fourth line with Jason Spezza and Pierre Engvall and will reprise his net-front role on the top power-play unit. He said the biggest issue in returning from injury is getting comfortable handling the puck along the boards and in front of the net.

Even if it takes a bit of time to get back at full speed, seeing him back in the lineup should provide a lift.

“I’m one of the guys who likes to speak a lot. I enjoy the interaction with my teammates, it’s fun,” said Simmonds. “I’ve tried to get in with the boys as much as I possibly could over the last four or five weeks here and mix it up just to keep my sanity and try to add a little bit to the group as well.”

ALEX GALCHENYUK

This has been a long time coming for the well-travelled forward, who was acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes on Feb. 15 and given the patient treatment by the Leafs.

They felt it was best to allow him to rediscover some lost confidence by working with the team’s player development staff and seeing the first AHL action of his career. Galchenyuk had two goals and eight points in six games with the Marlies before getting recalled.

“From seeing what he did with the Marlies, it seemed like he kind of got his swagger back a little bit,” said teammate Mitch Marner. “You know the confidence with the puck, seams through power plays, just kind of getting his, I guess, magic back.

“Throughout practice these last couple days I think you’ve seen it as well.”

Galchenyuk is getting a prime spot in the lineup alongside John Tavares and William Nylander as Keefe looks to give him the best chance at success.

He’s on his sixth team since a 30-goal season with the Montreal Canadiens six years ago, but he could be a valuable addition for Toronto if he rediscovers some old form.

“We recognize there’s more to this player here in terms of what he has to offer,” said Keefe. “That’s why we took a patient approach with him and gave him the opportunity to go down with the Marlies and really find his game and not just kind of rush him in and get him involved ...

“(We need) to show some patience as he’s adjusting back to getting going again in the NHL, adjusting to a new team and new teammates and all those kind of things.”

JACK CAMPBELL

Campbell will serve as Frederik Andersen’s backup Friday, but should be ready to start the second game against Calgary on Saturday.

That’s a welcome sign for the Leafs since he’s been healthy enough to play just once since late January. He reaggravated a leg injury during a 30-save shutout against Edmonton on Feb. 27 and has been listed as day-to-day ever since.

Getting Campbell in more games will be a high priority in the coming weeks, especially since Andersen acknowledged Thursday that he’s been playing at less than 100 per cent.

AUSTON MATTHEWS

No Maple Leafs player needed this restful stretch more than the NHL’s most dangerous sniper.

He’s been nursing a wrist and hand injury since the last meeting with Calgary on Feb. 24, where he got knocked down by Rasmus Andersson and crashed into the end boards.

That forced Matthews to sit out the next two games, and even since he’s returned he’s been much more selective in taking shots. But the reports from practice these last few days suggest his most dangerous weapon is rounding into form.

“It obviously is frustrating for him, I’m sure though, not being able to shoot as well as he would like,” said Marner. “It definitely looks like he has been coming back to normal and obviously that’s a big help for our team.”

Matthews leads the NHL with 21 goals — one ahead of Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid.

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