Maple Leafs plan to get Mrazek back to the net on Saturday against Chicago

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Petr Mrazek’s return to the Maple Leafs squad will take place on Saturday night.

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At least, that’s what the Leafs were planning after practice Friday at the Ford Performance Center as they prepared to face the Chicago Blackhawks at Scotiabank Arena.

“Our intention is for him to play (Saturday),” said Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe. “(Friday) was another full training for him. As long as he gets through morning practice (Saturday) still feeling the way he is right now, the plan would be to turn him on and play him. But it still has to come to this.

Mrazek is putting the finishing touches on a recovery after his second groin injury of 2021-22. He hasn’t played since Oct. 30, when he made 27 saves in the Leafs’ 5-4 win over the Detroit Red Wings. For now, Mrazek remains in the long-term casualty reserve. If enabled, one option for the Leafs would be to put Mitch Marner (shoulder) on LTIR. If that happens, the first game Marner could play is Dec. 27 against the Columbus Blue Jackets. When Marner was injured in a collision with Jake Muzzin last Friday, the initial prognosis was a three to four week absence from the Leafs roster.

“I’ve been feeling great the last few days,” Mrazek said. “We’ll see how it goes (Saturday) and go from there.”

If Mrazek returns, he’ll be playing behind a group that has had a few stumbles lately. Friday’s practice was short, fast and lively as the Leafs struggled to put a little peck – a win in their last four games – behind them.

A 5-3 loss to two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning in Tampa Bay on Thursday night was a reminder that a game can be ruined if mistakes are made with the puck.

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What’s encouraging for the Leafs, whose 38 points were tied for second in the National Hockey League heading into Friday’s games, is that the errors against Tampa Bay were out of the ordinary. For the most part, the Leafs have been a clean group since struggling in the first seven games of the season.

“That’s why we have to stay on top and understand how difficult it is to be at the level we want to be,” said captain John Tavares.

“Even though the schedule has been tough for us, everyone is going to go through it at some point and that’s what makes it really hard to be a good team in this league.

“We have the opportunity to end this week at home on a high note (Saturday) night, to get back on track and play a lot better.”

The blue line changes Keefe made in the loss to Tampa Bay will stand. Jake Muzzin, whose blunders helped the Lightning win, will have rookie Timothy Liljegren as his partner, while Justin Holl will see rookie Kristians Rubins, in his third game in the NHL, to his left.

Up front, Ondrej Kase will get a first row shot with Auston Matthews and Michael Bunting; Wayne Simmonds and Nick Ritchie will be on the wings between David Kampf in the third row.

A silver lining during Mrazek’s time on the injured list is that the Leafs got a first impression of what they got in NHL-level goaltender Joseph Woll. In four starts, Woll has played generally well, going 3-1-0 with a .911 save percentage and shutout.

A healthy, punchy Mrazek is crucial as the Leafs have no interest in riding too hard on Jack Campbell. Campbell was excellent, going 14-5-2 with a .935 save percentage and 1.99 goals against average.

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The idea when Mrazek signed a three-year, US $ 11.4 million contract in July was that he would form a tandem with Campbell. Instead, Mrazek injured his groin on his first start with the Leafs on Oct. 14 in Ottawa and improved the injury two weeks later against Detroit.

“Especially when you’re with a new team, you want to compete, you want to play games, but that’s how it is,” Mrazek said. “Especially with goalkeepers, you have to be careful with the groin and you have to make sure that they heal well. “

The Leafs will ask the hockey gods to make sure Mrazek’s stretches on the sideline end in two.

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The Leafs’ projected roster for Saturday, based on what we saw in practice:

BEFORE

LW-C-RW

Michael Bunting-Auston Matthews-Ondrej Kase

Alex Kerfoot-John Tavares-William Nylander

Nick Ritchie-David Kampf-Wayne Simmonds

Kyle Clifford-Pierre Engvall-Alex Steeves

DEFENSE

Morgan Rielly-TJ Brodie

Jake Muzzin-Timothy Liljegren

Kristians Rubins-Justin Holl

GOAL

Petr Mrazek

Jack campbell

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