Maple Leafs’ Thornton: ‘Can’t wait to play’ against Senators on Monday

Joe Thornton speaks to the media to confirm he'll be in the lineup on Monday to face the Ottawa Senators. He also discusses his injury further and his excitement to get going on a team that is playing well.

Joe Thornton‘s return to the Toronto Maple Leafs lineup is, at last, on the horizon.

Thornton, who has missed 10 consecutive games with a fractured rib, told reporters on Sunday that he “can’t wait to play tomorrow” against the Ottawa Senators.

“[The injury] was unfortunate, but I feel really good now and I can’t wait to play tomorrow,” Thornton said. “I’ve got the proper pads and I’ve been taking some light hits and some big hits and medium hits. Right now, I feel really good. I have no restrictions.”

During Sunday’s practice, Thornton skated on a line with Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner, the duo he primarily played with in the first five games this season.

“A lot of the things that I was hoping would happen with the line were happening,” Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “Joe, with his skill set and the way he moves the puck, complimented those guys very well. Also, with Joe being a presence down below the hash marks in the offensive zone, he did that very well for them.

“Probably the area that I had underestimated was Joe’s ability to win the puck back. Just the number of times he was tracking guys from behind and with his reach, the way he got his stick on the puck, he created so many loose pucks an turnovers and opportunities for Mitch and Auston going the other way.”

A return tomorrow aligns with Keefe’s initial timeline for Thornton, which indicated he would be out for a month, giving Toronto a boost not just on the ice but off of it as well.

“I think it’ll be a big boost, especially with the vibe in the room and team morale,” Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly said. “He just brings a lot. He’s a great player. Obviously, his career speaks for itself and I think he has great leadership and we’re looking forward to having him back.”

Thornton suffered the injury back on Jan. 20 in a game against the Edmonton Oilers. Early in the third period, he took an awkward hit along the boards and skated to the bench. He went to the locker room and did not return with what was later diagnosed as a fractured rib.

The Maple Leafs placed the veteran pivot on the long-term injured reserve two days after the injury occurred.

The 41-year-old Thornton has one goal and one assist through five games with the Maple Leafs this season, his first with the club after spending the past 15 with the San Jose Sharks.


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