Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Dion Phaneuf (3) rides Ottawa Senators left winger Nick Foligno (71) into the ice during NHL hockey action in Toronto on November 2, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
TORONTO - Dion Phaneuf is ready to come down from the press box and start helping the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The captain pronounced himself fit for Thursday's game against Philadelphia, marking his return after 16 games on the sidelines since having his left leg cut by a skate. In his absence, the team went 5-8-3 and slid further down the Eastern Conference standings.
"Everyone always says it's very easy to be critical from up there," Phaneuf said Thursday morning. "It's an easy game from there, it's not moving as quick as it is when you're out there. You guys watch it from up there every night.
"You see a lot of things, but it's pretty tough to be critical when you're sitting up there and they're down on the ice battling."
Phaneuf could have returned for Wednesday's 5-2 loss in Pittsburgh, but didn't want to jump straight into a back-to-back games. The last time he was on the ice at Air Canada Centre, he got tied up awkwardly with Ottawa Senators forward Peter Regin and had his leg cut.
A bad allergic reaction to antibiotics made his rehabilitation even longer.
"I'm looking forward to getting back," said Phaneuf. "It's not easy being hurt, it's not a lot of fun being out and watching."
The defenceman had four assists in 11 games prior to getting injured. Even though his offensive numbers have dropped substantially from early in his career, his presence in the lineup has helped the Maple Leafs.
Dating back to last season, Toronto is 18-15-4 when Phaneuf plays.
The 25-year-old isn't sure how much ice time coach Ron Wilson plans to give him against the Flyers.
"(When) you come back, you don't try and do too much," said Phaneuf. "You try to keep it as simple as possible. I'm not going to be running around and trying to do stuff that I don't usually do.
"I'm going to play my game. I'm sure I'll be taking short shifts, like I said being off for five weeks isn't easy."
Toronto is in the midst of a tough stretch of games. They host Montreal on Saturday before departing for a road swing through Western Canada, where Phaneuf is likely to make his return to Calgary on Dec. 16.
"We've got to win games, we've got to get points," said Phaneuf. "It's a critical part of the season for our team."