Maple Leafs welcome back ‘two huge pieces’ while Senators dip into taxi squad

Sheldon Keefe updates the media on Muzzin, Rielly and Nylander's availability, confirms Mitch Marner and Rasmus Sandin's return to action, and explains how the NHL break allowed their return without missing many games.

TORONTO – After Ontario’s NHL teams disappeared from game action for two weeks, the Toronto Maple Leafs are re-emerging as a healthier version of themselves while the Ottawa Senators are losing more players by the day.

If their respective spots in the standings wasn’t enough to divide Toronto and Ottawa in their long-awaited, fan-free return Saturday at Scotiabank Arena, the familiarity of the names in starting lineups will be.

The Maple Leafs welcome back a healthy Mitch Marner and Rasmus Sandin Saturday.

“Two huge pieces for us. It was actually good timing for them to be able to get back in there without missing any more games,” Justin Holl said.

“Obviously, [Marner] is a massive part of our team and a huge driver for offence. Really, all over the ice, he’s very responsible. He’s one of our best penalty killers. So, his presence is always missed, and it’s going to be huge to get him back.”

The Maple Leafs also welcome back a slew of players who have served their mandatory quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19 during December, and they should benefit from a mini training camp of sorts this week.

The club held five practices in the six days leading up to this return date versus Ottawa, each practice healthier than the last.

“Those games that ended up getting postponed when we were out on that western trip allowed more time for them to come back and not miss as many games,” coach Sheldon Keefe said.

“[Marner and Sandin] were working their way back and were skating before we paused here. But all the players that are coming off dealing with COVID, they’ve had additional time now. I think that’s the more important part.”

Morgan Rielly, William Nylander and Jake Muzzin all cleared protocol Friday and participated in Saturday’s optional morning skate but remain questionable for puck drop.

The only Leafs regular still in quarantine is defenceman Timothy Liljegren.

On the opposite side of the rink, the Senators placed defenceman Dillon Heatherington and forward Nick Paul in COVID-19 protocol Saturday morning. They join leading goal-scorer Josh Norris, Tyler Ennis and Anton Forsberg among the unavailable bodies.

Forwards Clark Bishop and Logan Shaw have been recalled from the team’s taxi squad and defenceman Lassi Thomson from AHL Belleville.

“We’re ready to play and excited to play,” Leafs captain John Tavares said.

“Whatever the circumstances are, I think we’re just happy to get back competing and get our game going again — and you get to play. This is what you work hard for, so looking forward to it.”

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