SUNRISE, Fla. -- Between suspensions and injuries, David Clarkson's first season with the Toronto Maple Leafs has been something of a nightmare. He's hoping things finally start heading in a positive direction when he returns to the lineup Tuesday against the Florida Panthers.
Clarkson, who signed a seven-year contract with the Maple Leafs during the summer after spending his first seven seasons with the New Jersey Devils, missed the past eight games because of an elbow injury. He missed the first 10 games of the regular season after being suspended for his part in a preseason altercation involving the Buffalo Sabres, later had a two-game suspension for an illegal hit to the head of St. Louis Blues forward Vladimir Sobotka and missed another game because of a foot injury.
Clarkson said after the morning skate Tuesday he was hoping to be able to hit the reset button on his season.
"I've had a chance to hit that button a couple of times," Clarkson said. "I'm somebody that tries to stay positive. It's been a lot of little injuries this year and suspensions. I haven't been healthy too much at all. At the end of the day everybody goes through it and it's how you come out at the end. I'm looking forward to finishing strong here."
Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said he didn't want to overstate the impact of Clarkson's return, but did say he thought Clarkson could help a team that has gone 9-1-1 in its past 11 games.
"We thought he was starting to really play well for us and had found his role and was involved more in the cycle, was doing a lot of good things," Carlyle said. "We think that he can make a huge contribution to our cause, that's for sure. We'll put him back in where he was before and we'll see where that takes us."
With Clarkson back in the lineup the Maple Leafs find themselves with an extra forward. But they were close to being at the limit.
James van Riemsdyk took part in the morning skate after taking a commercial flight Tuesday morning to join his teammates. Van Riemsdyk was sent home from practice Monday after he showed up with the flu. So when the Leafs' charter flew to South Florida, van Riemsdyk was left behind to further assess his condition although his father was on the flight as part of the team's father trip.
"I made the decision to send him along on the charter so he gets that whole experience," van Riemsdyk said. "I'm sure he had a great time [Monday]. It's definitely a little bit different [flying commercial]. It was an early morning but happy to be here."
For the Panthers, veteran center Scott Gomez will be back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch in a 4-1 loss against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday. Gomez had played the previous four games on Florida's top line in the absence of rookie Aleksander Barkov, who made his return against the Blue Jackets after being sidelined with a knee injury.
Barkov was a minus-2 in 17:50 against Columbus. Panthers interim coach Peter Horachek said Barkov needed a little time to get back to form but that he was pain free.
Defenseman Erik Gudbranson, the third pick of the 2010 NHL Draft, also was back in the lineup against Columbus after being scratched the previous three games. Gudbranson, who underwent orbital bone surgery Dec. 23, played with a visor against Columbus after wearing a full facemask in his first nine games back from surgery.
"We wanted him to settle down a little bit," Horachek said. "Taking the mask off kind of really helped him, allowed him to see the puck a lot better and his peripheral vision was better with the visor rather than the cage. He made a stride that he seemed to be under control the whole time."
Gudbranson said he might play with a visor permanently moving forward.
"It's still different but I'm going to make a serious effort to keep it on," Gudbranson said. "It's a little scary when a puck comes that close to your eye. You see how many injuries have happened. Hopefully I have a lot more of my career left so I might as well stay as safe as possible."
Here are the projected lineups for the Maple Leafs and Panthers on Tuesday at BB&T Center:
Notes: Carlyle said Ashton and Holland were scheduled to be evaluated Tuesday, which would determine whether either or both would accompany the team for its game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday.