TORONTO – Joffrey Lupul is looking forward to getting back on the ice with the Toronto Maple Leafs when they play the Winnipeg Jets at Air Canada Centre on Saturday.
Lupul missed 11 games, played in six and then sat out the past four with an undisclosed injury. All told, Lupul has missed 26 games because of injury this season and is glad to be back.
"I'll be playing unless I slip on some ice or something," Lupul joked after the optional morning skate. "It feels a lot better. It is something we tried to push through, but obviously once the season started to go the way it did, it was an injury that needed some rest. It feels a lot better now."
Toronto lost 2-1 at the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday. Saturday will mark the 14th time this season the Maple Leafs have played on back-to-back nights. Toronto is 6-6-1 in the second of back-to-backs and 8-2-0 in its past 10 home games against Western Conference competition.
The Jets (30-20-10) are coming off a 5-1 loss against the Washington Capitals on Thursday. Winnipeg has won four of its past six games and currently holds one of the two Western Conference wild-card spots for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Maple Leafs have lost five straight games and are 4-22-2 in their past 28. Despite their woes, Lupul said they're trying to find their identity.
"You still want to win," Lupul said. "Of course all the media talk and some of the fan attention is they want the team to lose, but none of the players want to lose. Obviously the game doesn't have the same meaning it would if you were chasing a playoff spot, but once you get on the ice you want to win. Hopefully I can bring a bit of that attitude and help us get a win here on home ice."
Lupul said one of the keys to turning things around is having the players each find their individual game.
"Our team game, for the most part, has been pretty good," Lupul said. "We are limiting the opposition's chances and we're getting chances ourselves. We just haven't had many people who are playing exceptionally well or who have stepped their game up. Obviously it's a team game, but you do need individuals to play well."
As usual, much of the focus concerning the Jets will be on Dustin Byfuglien who will start on left wing. Byfuglien, who is 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds, played both wing and defense against the Capitals on Thursday. Asked what his plan for Byfuglien, Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice deadpanned, "We're going to play him; probably play him a lot."
Maurice was asked if Byfuglien is better as a defenseman or forward.
"He's really, really good at both," Maurice said. "He has been very good in terms of point production from the blue line. He just gives us a different look. He's a big power forward and he's a big power defenseman. We're a little deeper on the blue line right now because of some injuries we have up front so we're going to play him up front."
Here are the projected lineups:
Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Dustin Byfuglien - Mark Scheifele - Drew Stafford
Chris Thorburn - Adam Lowry – Michael Frolik
Carl Klingberg - Jim Slater - Anthony Peluso
Ben Chiarot – Adam Pardy
Toby Enstrom - Tyler Myers
Mark Stuart - Jacob Trouba
Scratched: Jay Harrison, Paul Postma
Injured: Grant Clitsome (back), Matt Halischuk (lower body), Mathieu Perreault (lower body)
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Daniel Winnik - Nazem Kadri - Richard Panik
Leo Komarov - Olli Jokinen - David Clarkson
Joffrey Lupul - Peter Holland – David Booth
Morgan Rielly - Roman Polak
Jake Gardiner - Korbinian Holzer
Petter Granberg - Stephane Robidas
Scratched: Brandon Kozun
Injured: Dion Phaneuf (hand), Trevor Smith (upper body)
Status report: The Maple Leafs returned defenseman Andrew MacWilliam to the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League. With Lupul returning to the lineup, Kozun will be a healthy scratch. … Wheeler took a shot on the leg Thursday but will play, according to the Winnipeg Sun.
Who's hot: Kozun scored his first NHL goal Friday. … Ladd has a point in each of his past three games (two goals, assist).