Marner, Jarnrok absences put Maple Leafs lines in scramble mode

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Injuries have forced Sheldon Keefe to put his forward lines in a blender again, but the new recipe means a revival for Nick Robertson.

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With Mitch Marner’s continuing absence with a reported ankle sprain and Calle Jarnkrok listed as “week-to-week” by coach Keefe with a hand injury suffered Thursday in Philadelphia, Robertson is set to re-appear for Saturday’s home game against Carolina.

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A healthy scratch a few games, then demoted to make room on the roster for trade deadline pickups, Robertson was on right wing for Friday’s practice with centre John Tavares and left winger Matthew Knies.

“I just want to get playing and be with the guys,” said Robertson, who last was utilized on Feb. 29. “It’s been weird, practicing on my own here with the guys on the road. I’ve been waiting my turn and unfortunately, it’s (due to) Jarny with his hand.”

Jarnkrok hurt himself bracing for a crash into the boards, not long after returning from a broken knuckle that kept him out through February. He appears throughout the lineup in a number of roles, while Marner is NHL goal-leader Auston Matthews’ principal set-up man

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“You look at getting more versatility in the lineup,” said Keefe of other planned changes for the Carolina game, including Bobby McMann up to second-line duty with Max Domi centring he and William Nylander, while Pontus Holmberg rises all the way to the first line with Matthews and Tyler Bertuzzi. “You’ve got speed and skill with Robertson and Noah Gregor (also off the shelf to play on the fourth line with David Kampf and Ryan Reaves), Robertson on the (second) power play, Gregor the penalty kill (where Marner and Jarnrok often are featured).

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“The opponent we have is going to be four lines deep and scoring throughout.”

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Keefe could no longer classify Marner as day-to-day after more than a week out after he tumbled awkwardly in the 4-1 loss in Boston. He did say Marner is skating on his own with the goal of “ramping up” to resume practice next week.

In addition to its traditional strengths as a heavy checking team that spreads out production, Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour’s club has added forwards Evgeny Kuznetsov from Washington, who notched his first with the ‘Canes in Thursday’s win over Florida, and Jake Guentzel, arguably the prize at trade deadline from Pittsburgh.

It should also be a warm welcome for goalie Frederik Andersen, just returning from a three-month absence with a blood-clotting issue.

Andersen had a recent history of hot starts with the Leafs getting derailed by injuries and began this season with a five-game winning streak in November. Then his blood disorder was discovered and while a full recovery was expected, there was no guarantee it would be in time for playoffs.

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Through it, the ‘Canes held their second seed in the Metropolitan, then Andersen rejoined them with a bang, beating the first-place Rangers and getting past Montreal, Calgary and Florida, allowing just three goals.

“I’m very happy to see him back on the ice and feeling good,” said Leafs alternate captain Morgan Rielly. “He was a great person and teammate and you want them to perform well. That goes away a little bit if he’s playing tomorrow night, but for the person I’m very happy.

“He was great here, great performances, great playoff performances, a big reason why we got to the playoffs. I remember thinking how under-rated he was when he was here, that’s not the case anymore.”

On Thursday, Carolina’s new crew was operating at full efficiency, a goal from Kuznetsov, an assist by Guentzel and Andersen’s 21-save shutout.

Andersen return a solid fourth in franchise wins by a goalie with 149, tied for seventh in save percentage with Bruce Gamble and James Reimer.

Goaltending is not a hot-button issue with the Leafs as playoffs approach. Should Ilya Samsonov (four straight wins in March with a .933 save percentage) falter, Joseph Woll and Martin Jones form a good Plan B.

The Leafs will be wearing their Toronto St. Patricks’ green-themed equipment and sweaters for Saturday’s match.

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