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Mats Back Saturday vs Lightning

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs

TORONTO (CP) - Exactly a month to the day after the scare of his life, captain Mats Sundin will return to the Toronto Maple Leafs lineup not knowing what to expect from himself.

"There's going to be an adjustment period for myself, but it feels good on the ice, it feels good practising,'' Sundin said Friday after practice. "We just have to wait and see. I'm going to try and go out and play like I have before.''

His vision still isn't back to where it was before he took a puck in the left eye in the Oct. 5 season opener, but it's gradually improving with each and every week.

"When I look with both my eyes it's not far from what it was before,'' Sundin said. "My left vision isn't as good as my right eye but it's not where it's going to make a difference on the ice.''

Having missed all but seven minutes of the NHL season, Sundin returns to a team that has kept its head above water despite the absence of their top player.

"It's huge having him back,'' said Toronto defenceman Ken Klee. "I don't care what team you're talking about, if you take the best player off a team it's going to hurt them.''

That Sundin's teammates managed a 6-5-2 record without him would have probably satisfied most Leaf fans if offered a month ago, but not head coach Pat Quinn.

"No, I'm not happy with where we are right now,'' Quinn said after practice. "I think we've squandered some points, I think we did last night (4-3 loss at Carolina) and we did earlier on as well.

"When you have leads in a hockey game, that's part of knowing how to win and you got to close the door on that sort of thing and we haven't done it well enough.''

The Leafs did well early on without their captain but have been running on fumes lately, winning only two of their past six games.

They face an equally ornery bunch in the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night (CBC, 7 p.m. ET). The defending Stanley Cup champions are not pleased with their 7-5-2 record, coming off losses to Ottawa and Atlanta this week.

So the Leafs have their work cut out for them Saturday. Sundin, wearing a visor, skated on a line with Jeff O'Neill and Alexei Ponikarovsky at practice Friday.

"I'll start off with a visor and we'll see, I hope I can use it for the rest of the year,'' said Sundin. "But obviously I'm going to need it to protect the eye at the start here for a few weeks anyways.''

Quinn shuffled all his lines except for Jason Allison between youngsters Matt Stajan and Alexander Steen, a trio that connected for all three Toronto goals in Carolina.

Eric Lindros skated between Chad Kilger and Darcy Tucker at practice while Kyle Wellwood was between Tie Domi and Wade Belak.

Nik Antropov (leg) and Mariusz Czerkawski (shoulder) practised Friday but are not yet ready to return although Antropov said he thought he would play Tuesday. Clark Wilm missed practice Friday after taking a shot off a foot in Thursday's game.

He should be OK to play in Sunday's game in Washington against the Capitals.

Once everybody is healthy, the Leafs will have 24 bodies, one more then maximum allowed.

Wellwood, despite his strong play, could be sent down to the AHL Marlies because he doesn't have to clear waivers while seldomly used tough guy Nathan Perrott does.

Wellwood has put up eight points (2-6) in 12 games and sports a plus-3 rating.

"His play away from the puck is better than I've witnessed,'' Quinn said of the rookie. "He's always been a guy that by himself can make some pretty good plays. He's a shifty fellow and has that individual offensive flair to get himself good chances. It often was at the expense of the other side of the game and that's the part I think he's been better at.''

But that doesn't mean Wellwood is guaranteed to survive over Perrott.

"He still hasn't blown us away in any sense, but he's been good,'' Quinn said. "He has to keep coming here every day thinking: `I have to be better every day.'''

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