Joe Thornton will return for the Toronto Maple Leafs when they host the Ottawa Senators on Monday (7 p.m. ET; TSN4, TSN5, RDS, NHL.TV).
The forward practiced for the first time Sunday after missing 10 games with a fractured rib sustained when he was hit along the boards by Edmonton Oilers forward Josh Archibald 2:51 into the third period of Toronto’s 3-1 loss Jan. 20.
“[The injury] was unfortunate, but I feel really good now and I can’t wait to play tomorrow,” Thornton said Sunday. “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.”
Thornton signed a one-year contract with the Maple Leafs on Oct. 16 after playing 15 seasons for the San Jose Sharks. The 41-year-old scored two points (one goal, one assist) in five games this season playing primarily on a line with Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner. He was on a line with those two at practice.
Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said Thornton, Matthews and Marner had good chemistry in those first few games.
“A lot of the things that I was hoping would happen with the line were happening,” 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.”
Thornton’s presence has been missed off the ice too.
“I think it’ll be a big boost, especially with the vibe in the room and team morale,” Maple Leafs defenseman 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 has scored 1,511 points (421 goals, 1,090 assists) in 1,641 NHL games for the Boston Bruins, Sharks and Maple Leafs.
Frederik Andersen left practice early, but Keefe said it was to give the goalie rest. Andersen has started 13 of Toronto’s 15 games and is 9-3-1 with a 2.55 goals-against average and .909 save percentage.
“I just told him today to take what he needed,” Keefe said. “With three goalies, it gives us the opportunity to limit his workload in practice. He got a session in with (goaltending coach) Steve Briere before practice, he wanted to take a drill and then called it a day.”