Tim Connolly has not ruled out returning to the Maple Leafs lineup on Tuesday.
Realistically, however, it sounds like the centre will be back in action on Thursday when the Leafs visit the Nashville Predators.
“I’m a lot better than where I was a week ago, and seemed to have really turned the corner here,” Connolly said. “It’s only a matter of days before I am back and ready to go.”
Connolly suffered an upper-body injury, believed to be a rib injury, against the Boston Bruins on Nov. 5, and has missed the past three games.
On Monday, Connolly practised with his teammates for the first time since getting knocked out of the lineup, and wore the same colour of sweater as regular healthy scratches Colton Orr and Jay Rosehill. But Connolly participated in all of the special-teams drills.
“It’s a bonus (if Connolly plays against the Phoenix Coyotes on Tuesday at the Air Canada Centre),” coach Ron Wilson said. “We’re prepared in case he is not ready. The good sign is if he is not ready for tomorrow, it is very likely he could be ready for Nashville.”
In six games, Connolly has one goal and three assists. The 30-year-old missed the first eight games with a shoulder injury.
Tyler Bozak has been taking Connolly’s spot on the top line with wingers Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. In 15 games, Bozak has one goal and seven assists.
During practice, Connolly didn’t appear to be a guy who has been out for more than a week. But he indicated after that he is not quite there yet.
“I was not 100% out there today, but felt pretty good,” Connolly said. “Skating, shooting, a little bit of everything. It’s just not quite there. I can’t quite get up to full speed or a full shot but I am not too far away.”
Captain Dion Phaneuf was absent from practice for what Wilson called a maintenance day. Phaneuf will play against the Coyotes, Wilson said.
Wilson would not say whether Ben Scrivens, who has started three of the past four games in goal, or Jonas Gustavsson would start against the Coyotes.
The Coyotes will provide a stiff challenge for the Leafs. Since losing their season opener in Dallas, they are 4-0-1 on the road.
“They’re very disciplined in own end and neutral zone,” Wilson said. “You have to stick to our game plan and not veer off or get frustrated. I have coached a lot against (Dave Tippett), and it can be a long night if you are turning pucks over, I can tell you that.”