TORONTO - For a Boston Bruins team that has been decimated by injuries thus far this season, the appearance of one of the team's biggest talents (and smallest players) was a welcome sight Friday morning at Air Canada Centre.
After a two-game absence, Brad Marchand is back. And that's great news for the Black and Gold.
"Listen, Marchy is one of our best players - one of the best players in the National Hockey League - so always great to have him back," said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy following Friday's skate.
"Yeah it's just nice to be back here with the guys and looking forward to the game tonight," said Marchand. "It's always fun playing here - fun matchup."
Marchand's linemates - Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak - were also thrilled to see their teammate return to the locker room.
"It means a lot for the whole team," said Bergeron. "Just to have him back, he brings so much energy but also everything he does on the ice, obviously, his offensive production is going to help us as well. He's a great player, we all know that, and we are happy to have him back."
"This is crazy, so many guys down," noted Pastrnak. "Obviously it's part of hockey. We need to fight with it. Other guys just step up. It's nice to get back Marchy back… Hopefully the guys can start coming back."
Video: Bruins speak to media Friday in Toronto
Marchand isn't the only Bruins forward set to return to the lineup Friday night. Noel Acciari, who has missed the last 13 games with a broken finger suffered in the team's season opening win against Nashville, skated with the team Friday and is ready for game action in Toronto.
"Yeah, everything feels good," said the 25-year-old winger. "It might not be what it used to be right now but it'll get there. It will be good to get back in the game, get back in game shape, and just get back out there."
Acciari said the biggest challenge in his long recovery was regaining movement in his index finger.
"Just with the surgery, basically I wasn't able to bend it right away," explained Acciari. "Working with PT [physical therapy], the trainers, working with getting the movement back from it was big. That was the biggest issue. Right now it feels good."
Fortunately for Cassidy and the Bruins, the injury is unlikely to hamper Acciari's rugged physical game.
"Noel is a little bit underappreciated," said Cassidy. "Not from our standpoint, but maybe around the hockey world. He's a hard-nosed guy that can set the tempo for us physically so his presence is welcome back in the lineup."
Dobby Between The Pipes
As predicted on Thursday, Cassidy confirmed Friday that Anton Khduobin will get the start in Toronto, with Tuukka Rask expected to start the second game of the back-to-back Saturday night in Boston.
"I think he comes to play every night," said Cassidy. "He's given us a chance to win every night. I thought the San Jose game was his best. He was the difference in the game. He's been rock solid."
Matthews Out For Maple Leafs
This is the first time this year that the Bruins will be seeing the Maple Leafs, who sit above the Bruins in second place in the Atlantic Division standings with 20 points in 17 games. Toronto will be without 2017 Calder Trophy winner Auston Matthews for Friday and potentially Saturday as well, as the young superstar is sidelined with a suspected back injury. But the Bruins expect a formidable challenge from the Leafs whether or not the former top overall pick laces up his skates.
"He's a very good player, does a lot of damage for that team, but they still have a lot weapons," Marchand told reporters. "[Nazem] Kadri has been very good the last couple years and obviously [William] Nylander and [Tyler] Bozak, [Morgan] Riley on the back end - they have a lot of weapons. [Patrick] Marleau coming in is a huge veteran presence. Regardless of who they are missing, they are still a very dangerous team on any given night."
"They have a strong lineup no matter who is in," said Cassidy. "They score goals, they get to the net, they are very competitive in the slot and goal area. So we have to make sure that we are hard there."
Based on Friday morning's skate, forward Frank Vatrano and defenseman Rob O'Gara will be the odd men out tonight for the Black and Gold. See below for the full lineup projection:
Puck drop is set for 7:22 p.m. ET on NESN and 98.5 The Sports Hub.