TORONTO - Frederik Andersen is returning to action.
The Maple Leafs goalie will appear in his first NHL game since March 19 when he takes the net Wednesday in Ottawa.
Andersen missed the past 23 games for Toronto with a knee injury that’s nagged him throughout the season. Toronto has just two regular-season games remaining before their postseason begins, and getting Andersen a start prior to that was important for the club.
“It was another really good day for Fred today [at practice], he progressed from yesterday and feels real good coming off the ice here today,” said coach Sheldon Keefe on Tuesday. “I thought he was tremendous these last couple days. He's worked extremely hard to get himself back to being ready. His approach has been really good. It's good to have him back and the guys will be excited to play in front of him tomorrow.”
It’s been a long back to full health for Andersen. He initially missed four games in February with the knee problem, then came back on March 3 only to struggle his way to a 2-5-1 record before being shut down again on March 20.
Andersen took his time recovering, and the Leafs were patient with that process. It included having Andersen go on a conditioning stint to the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies last week, where he was able to assess his game after a nearly two-month-long layoff.
The 31-year-old started two games for the Marlies, making 12 of 14 saves in the first half of one game and stopping 34 of 38 shots through regulation and overtime of the second.
“It was great to get some game action and really not play around with it, but try to work on how to have the right mindset and battle for pucks,” Andersen said after his start last Saturday, a 5-4 shootout loss. “I’m just trusting that I can have energy to play a full game and trusting everything I've done that’s helped me in my game.”
Andersen returned to Leafs’ practice on Monday, but Keefe said he was still not “medically cleared” for NHL play. By Tuesday morning the club appeared to be clearing cap space in order to activate Andersen off Long Term Injured Reserve.
Goaltender Michael Hutchinson, defenceman Timothy Liljegren and forward Stefan Noesen were all sent to the Marlies to help provide Toronto with the relief necessary to put Andersen’s $5 million salary back on the books.
Now, with the postseason looming just ahead, Andersen and the Leafs will get a chance to see where he’s at against NHL competition.
“Fred's played a lot of games in the NHL he's got a lot of experience,” said Keefe. “You’re not going to read too much into any one particular game, just like you're not going to read too much into his AHL conditioning stint. This is all about just him getting comfortable and feeling good when he leaves the net at the end of the day, from a health perspective and then from our perspective, just giving him those game reps and having him out there and so close to playoffs is a positive thing.”