TORONTO - Somewhere — perhaps in a dark basement in Montreal or Ottawa — Colby Armstrong figures there’s an enemy sticking pins into a voodoo doll of his likeness.
“Someone has something,” Armstrong said with a smile after the Maple Leafs practised on Thursday. “I don’t know what it is.
“For the most part, I have had some fluky things happen, and hopefully I can put it all behind me now. It’s not the way I wanted it to go in the first little bit of becoming a Maple Leaf, but hopefully I can start fresh.”
Armstrong will return to the Leafs’ lineup on Friday night in Washington against the Capitals, with 23 games knocked off the schedule since his most recent appearance. Armstrong has recovered from a sprained ankle that he suffered on Oct. 19 against the Winnipeg Jets, and when he skates on to the ice at the Verizon Center, it will be the 56th time he has played for the Leafs. That’s against 55 games he has missed since he signed with Toronto in July 2010 because of injuries.
When the Leafs clash with Alexander Ovechkin and the rest of the Capitals, they will take two big steps toward being a fully healthy team. Armstrong will be joined by fellow winger Clarke MacArthur, who missed one game with a shoulder injury. The return of the two veterans resulted in the demotion of Joe Colborne, who had one goal and three assists in nine games, to the Toronto Marlies.
Armstrong has watched as many games as he has played for the Leafs since he wrote his signature on a three-year, $9-million US contract, but his impact was evident in the happy buzz among his teammates in the dressing room at the MasterCard Centre during the noon hour on Thursday.
“You can’t say enough good things about him,” captain Dion Phaneuf said. “He’s always joking or saying something, and he is big part of our team. When a guy like that is out, it’s a big piece of the puzzle. It’s great to have him back.”
Armstrong’s sense of humour and willingness to see the lighter side is clear to anyone who has spent even five minutes in his company (and if you can’t, follow him on Twitter at @armdog to get an idea). But he’s as serious as anyone else when it’s time to hop over the boards, and it’s that tenacity which will help the Leafs.
“That’s another bullet in the gun for us, because he can play a 200-foot game and he can play in any situation,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. “And on top of that, you add his leadership qualities, his character.”
Armstrong participated on a line with centre Tim Connolly and Joey Crabb, but don’t write that in stone. MacArthur didn’t have set linemates, and it was not until after practice that it was revealed by Wilson that MacArthur would play against the Capitals.
Armstrong wants to wash away the sense that he has been missing out. He accompanied the team to Boston and New York last weekend for the annual fathers trip, but has not been on the road for the majority of trips. Simply being around his teammates again will be a bonus.
“When you are on injured reserve, it’s lonely,” Armstrong said. “You have to stick to your own program almost, it seems. It has been frustrating and tough and I worked pretty hard to get back. A lot of it was staying off my feet but I worked my upper body in rehab and was bag-skating by myself for a while.”
The Leafs should do everything in their power to keep Armstrong in uniform. Of the 55 games he has played in, the Leafs have won 29, including four of five this season.
Don’t expect to see Armstrong’s at-times rambunctious, ask-questions-later approach to the game differ, injuries be damned.
“I’m looking to come in and provide some energy and play hard,” Armstrong, 29, said. “I have to play the same way I have always played. Getting too old to change now.”
Leafs forward Phil Kessel, meanwhile, will be looking to reclaim the NHL scoring lead after the Philadelphia Flyers’ Claude Giroux overtook him on Wednesday night. Giroux has 36 points, with Kessel right behind at 35. Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin and Chicago’s Jonathan Toews also were in the mix heading into their games on Thursday night.
(Colby Armstrong has been sidelined several times by injuries since becoming a Leaf, none have been of the minor variety. A glance at Armstrong’s injury history in Toronto:)
Injury Out Games missed
Ankle Oct. 19-Dec. 8/11 23
Foot Mar. 16-Apr. 9/11 12
Eye Feb. 12-19/11 4
Finger Oct. 28-Dec. 2/10 16