Mats Sundin didn’t take long to shake off the rust of a one-month layoff.
The Toronto captain looks to build on a strong effort in his first start since returning from a broken eye socket when the Maple Leafs visit the Washington Capitals in the opener of a home-and-home series.
Sundin returned to the ice Saturday and had a goal and an assist to help Toronto to a 5-3 win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
Sundin had missed the previous 12 games after fracturing his left orbital bone when he was struck in the face by a puck in Toronto’s season opener, a 3-2 shootout loss to Ottawa on Oct. 5.
“I was a little worried before the game about how it was going to go, but it went better than I thought,” said Sundin, who wore a protective visor.
“It feels all right. You have to constantly wipe off the water, but it’s something you have to get used to. I’m going to have to wear it for the next three weeks, and hopefully I can keep it on for the remainder of the year.”
The veteran center helped Jeff O’Neill end an eight-game scoring drought by assisting on the first goal of the game. Sundin gave Toronto a 3-1 lead in the second period.
“He was huge right from the start,” said rookie Alexander Steen, who had his sixth goal of the season.
Sundin will try to help the Maple Leafs resume their success against the Capitals in the first meeting between the teams this season. He has 49 points in 42 career games against Washington.
Washington leads the all-time series 44-43-10-1, but Toronto has gone 6-0-2 in the last eight meetings. The Capitals’ last win over the Maple Leafs came on March 21, 2002.
Goaltender Ed Belfour, who made 33 saves Saturday, has been stellar in the series, going 16-4-2 with a 2.05 goals-against average in 22 career starts against Washington. Alexei Ponikarovsky has also enjoyed success against the Capitals, scoring four of his 15 NHL goals against them.
Rookie sensation Alexander Ovechkin continued his strong play for the struggling Capitals. Ovechkin, who leads all rookies with eight goals, was the only player to score in the shootout Friday, lifting Washington to a 3-2 win over Atlanta.
STANDINGS (through Nov. 5): Maple Leafs - 16 points, 4th place, 7 PB, Northeast Division. Capitals - 10 points, 4th place, 11 PB, Southeast Division.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through Nov. 5): Maple Leafs - Power play: 24.7 percent (23 for 93), 2nd in NHL. Penalty killing: 83.7 percent (72 for 86), 11th. Capitals - Power play: 9.7 percent (7 for 72), 30th. Penalty killing: 77.3 percent (82 for 106), 26th.
2003-04 SEASON SERIES: Maple Leafs, 2-0-2.
LAST MEETING: Jan. 21, 2004; Maple Leafs, 3-2. At Washington, Ponikarovsky scored twice and Belfour made 21 saves.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Maple Leafs - 2-2-1 on the road; Capitals - 4-3-0 at home.