Peter Mrazek insists he felt good when he returned from a groin injury one month ago.
He picked up his first win with the Toronto Maple Leafs in a 5-4 victory against the Detroit Red Wings on Oct. 30 but admitted that he felt the injury flare up during his 27-save performance.
"So I finished the game, and then the few days after, we were looking at it wasn't getting any better. So I saw the [team] specialist," Mrazek said. "That was the result of it. Sometimes these things happen."
Mrazek took part in his first full practice on Tuesday. Limited to 100 minutes of action this season, the team will be cautious when approaching his return and send the goaltender on a conditioning stint with the Toronto Marlies this weekend.
Taking this action not only gauges where Mrazek is physically, but it allows the Leafs to keep him on long-term injured reserve in the event he experiences any setbacks.
The Leafs signed the Czech goaltender to a three-year deal worth $11.4 million to bolster their depth between the pipes and to push incumbent starter Jack Campbell.
Toronto hasn't missed him in the net. Campbell capped off an incredible November where he posted a 9-2-0 record with a .959 save percentage and 1.27 goals-against average. Joseph Woll has emerged as a capable backup. He is 3-0-0 with a .938 save percentage and 1.67 goals-against average and will likely get another start this weekend with back-to-back games scheduled against the Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets.
"Jake and Joey played outstanding, I'm really happy for them," Mrazek said.
He also insists that when he does return to action, the groin injury history won't enter his mind.
"Like today in practice, when you feel 100 percent on the ice, you don't even know you had any injury," Mrazek said. "I would say it was frustrating the first two or three days after the Red Wings game when I didn't know if I was going to get better or if it's going to get worse, what's going to be the timeline? Those days are the worst days, I think before you find out how long it's going to take."
While Mrazek has been on long-term injured reserve, the Leafs have been taking advantage of his $3.8 million cap exception. Under a fully healthy lineup, the Leafs were pressed to carry more than the minimum 20 players.
Ilya Mikheyev has also remained on LTIR since he broke his thumb in training camp. On Oct. 11, the team announced that the forward would be out of the lineup for a minimum of eight weeks. Dec. 6 marks the beginning of the ninth week, but it's unclear when the Russian will be ready.
Mikheyev joined his teammates before practice for the first time since he sustained the injury. He's been working with skills and conditioning before that time.
"I think that's going to continue to progress as he gains strength in that hand," Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said.
Anderson to make season debut
Joey Anderson will play in his second game for the Maple Leafs in two seasons when the Leafs host the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday.
Anderson skated on a line with Pierre Engvall and David Kampf at practice.
"He's got good defensive instincts, great work ethic and we think he could help on the penalty kill," Keefe said of Anderson. With [Ondrej] Kase's absence in the lineup that getting another right-winger in there helps us and with the skillset that Joey has, it's a good fit. "
The Maple Leafs acquired Anderson from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for forward Andreas Johnsson on Oct. 10, 2020. He played one game for the Leafs last season while spending much of his time in the organization with the Marlies.
From Minnesota, Anderson admitted that the pandemic brought challenges last year with his family unable to visit Canada due to the restrictions.
"I'm really close with them and normally they come and see once or twice a month so that was tough," Anderson said. "When I got to the organization, I didn't know a whole lot of players in the organization, so I was kind of living alone and it was tough for me."
This season has been different. Anderson has five goals and two assists in 13 games with the Marlies and he's been able to keep his mind off hockey when not at the rink by bowling, playing arcade games or board games.
Ondrej Kase will miss his third straight game with an upper-body injury.
"He skated this morning and that went well," Keefe said. "So tomorrow he'll progress into our morning skate and get out with the guys."
The Leafs continue to take a cautious approach on the winger's return, given his injury history that included concussions.
Signed to a one-year, $1.25 million contract in the offseason, Kase has brought value to the club with five goals and three assists in 21 games.