SUNRISE, Fla. — David Clarkson will hit the reset button again on Tuesday night.
But with the Maple Leafs forward set to return to the lineup after missing the past eight games with an elbow injury, coach Randy Carlyle had some advice after the Leafs’ morning skate at the BB&T Center.
“I don’t want to put too much emphasis on Clarkson, after a player is coming back into your lineup when missing en extended period of time,” Carlyle said. “I think it is more suited to just let the player get his feet under him before we make these great proclamations on what he is doing to do, where he is going to be at.”
While Carlyle said Clarkson’s participation would be a coach’s decision, the player said he was ready to go against the Florida Panthers.
“It’s going to be good to get playing again,” Clarkson said. “It has been a tough year but I am excited to get back in tonight.”
Clarkson has three goals and five assists in 36 games. To say he has not lived up to expectations after signing a seven-year, $36.75-million US contract last July would be an understatement. And it doesn’t help that the Leafs have been more successful without Clarkson than they have been with him.
A 10-game suspension to start the season, another two-game suspension and foot trouble on top of his elbow woes have conspired to make his first Leafs season a difficult one. But it’s time to put the excuses in the garbage.
Clarkson has to be better, and he knows it.
“I have had a chance to hit that (reset) button a couple of times,” Clarkson said. “I’m hoping. I’m someone who tries to stay positive. There have been a lot of little injuries and suspensions and I have not been healthy to much at all.
“But everybody goes through it and it’s how you come out at the end and I am looking forward to finishing strong.”
Clarkson skated on a line with centre Jay McClement and winger Mason Raymond.
Based on the morning skate, it appeared winger Troy Bodie will be a healthy scratch. Dave Bolland (ankle) also skated.
James van Riemsdyk, who was battling the flu, caught a flight out of Toronto on Tuesday morning and joined his teammates.
“I feel better today,” van Riemsdyk said. “It was an early morning but I am happy to be here.”
Leafs forwards Carter Ashton (hand) and Peter Holland (foot) did not make the trip. They will be evaluated on Tuesday and could join the team, Carlyle said.
Jonathan Bernier will start in goal for the Leafs, who have won nine of their past 11 games. Tim Thomas will be in net for the Panthers.
Florida, losers of three in a row, know it has to be on its toes against the Leafs.
Last Thursday at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, the Panthers had a 2-0 lead on the Leafs in the first period but lost 6-3.
“We have to understand you can’t just start great and expect to win games,” Panthers defenceman Tom Gilbert said. “Toronto has been scoring a lot of goals. They have forwards with speed, forwards who can shoot the puck and create plays. For us, we have to manage the puck, know situations and always be prepared that this team is very explosive. They can score at any time.”