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Maple Leafs' Laich returns against Flames

Toronto forward missed two games with lower-body injury; Hiller starts in net for Calgary

by Mike Brophy / Correspondent

FLAMES (31-35-6) at MAPLE LEAFS (25-35-11)

TV: 7:30 p.m. ET; SNW, TSN4, NHL.TV

TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs will welcome back forward Brooks Laich when they host the Calgary Flames at Air Canada Centre on Monday.

Laich, who was acquired from the Washington Capitals on Feb. 28, missed the game Saturday against the Buffalo Sabres for personal reasons.

"I'm very excited to be back," Laich said. "I had something I needed to do and the organization was first class about it. I really appreciate what they allowed me to do. It needed to happen. I don't want to say much more about it. I am thankful for what they allowed me to do and I am excited to be back playing hockey."

The trade to Toronto took Laich from a Stanley Cup contender to a last-place team. Nevertheless, the 32-year-old is genuinely excited about the possibilities for his new team.

"You know what, I'm a Maple Leaf," Laich said. "I have moved on. I think we have a really good hockey team. We're not saying rebuild; I think we can compete every night. The thing I like about our team is we play for every inch. Teams that fight for every inch are tough to play against. We're going to grow, get better and work on things."

Laich said one advantage the Maple Leafs have as a young, growing group, is an excellent coach in Mike Babcock. He said Babcock makes players accountable and Laich believes Babcock's approach will speed up the process.

"There's a great level of accountability around here that if you are in the lineup or in a certain position or on the ice in a certain situation you are expected to produce a result," Laich said.

Babcock said Laich can be a difference maker in terms of being a positive role model for the Maple Leafs younger players.

"You get to choose your attitude every day and I don't discount for one second when you go from a team that looks like it is knocking on the door to a team that isn't, you have to take a look at things," Babcock said. "The other things is motivation -- what's in it for me? When you are playing six minutes a night versus suddenly getting to be important, that's the other side. The team is not as good, but the opportunity is really good. There's lots of kids who need help here and he seems to have embraced that."

The Maple Leafs hoped to have center Tyler Bozak and right wing Leo Komarov in the lineup against the Flames. Bozak has missed 20 games with a concussion and may play Thursday when Toronto hosts the Anaheim Ducks. Babcock said Sunday that Komarov would like play against Calgary, but tests on his lower-body injury indicated it is worse than originally thought. He is now listed as day-to-day, having missed the past two games.

The Flames won 4-1 against the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday and did not skate Monday. Goalie Niklas Backstrom, acquired from the Minnesota Wild on Feb. 29, played his first NHL game since Jan. 13, 2015 and made 21 saves to record the victory.

"It was huge," Flames center Sean Monahan said afterward. "He's worked so hard for us. He comes in every day like a pro and obviously that's a big win and we want to get that one for him."

Jonas Hiller is expected to start against the Maple Leafs.

Here are the projected lineups:

Johnny Gaudreau - Sean Monahan - Josh Jooris
Lance Bouma - Mikael Backlund - Michael Frolik
Micheal Ferland - Sam Bennett - Joe Colborne
Brandon Bollig - Matt Stajan - Garnet Hathaway

Freddie Hamilton - Mark Giordano
TJ Brodie - Dougie Hamilton
Jyrki Jokipakka - Jakub Nakladal

Jonas Hiller
Niklas Backstrom

Injured: Karri Ramo (torn ACL), Ladislav Smid (upper body), Dennis Wideman (triceps)
Scratched: Deryk Engelland, Joni Ortio

Michael Grabner - Nazem Kadri - Milan Michalek
Zach Hyman - William Nylander - PA Parenteau
Colin Greening - Brooks Laich - Ben Smith
Josh Leivo - Frederik Gauthier - Connor Brown  

Morgan Rielly - Martin Marincin  
Jake Gardiner - Connor Carrick  
Rinat Valiev - Frank Corrado

Jonathan Bernier
Garret Sparks

Injured: Nikita Soshnikov (lower body), Leo Komarov (lower body), Stephane Robidas (lower body), James van Riemsdyk (fractured foot), Joffrey Lupul (sports hernia surgery), Byron Froese (lower body), Matt Hunwick (sports hernia), Tyler Bozak (concussion), Brad Boyes (shoulder), Viktor Loov (upper body), Peter Holland (upper body)
Scratched: None

Status report: Soshnikov left the game against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday late in the third period with an upper-body injury. …Babcock said Bozak and Boyes may play on Thursday

Who's hot: Nylander had a goal and an assist and was the No. 1 star in Toronto's win Saturday. … Parenteau has three points in three games. … Rielly has two points (one goal, one assist) in two games. … Hamilton had three assists in the win against Montreal. … Giordano and Colborne each have three goals and five points in three games. … Backland has four goals and eight points in 10 games. … Monahan has five goals in four games.

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