Flyers’ van Riemsdyk returns to Toronto to face Leafs

TORONTO — This could be a period of many happy returns for the Toronto Maple Leafs and for one of their former players, James van Riemsdyk of the Philadelphia Flyers.

Van Riemsdyk will return to the Scotiabank Arena Saturday night for the first time since signing as a free agent with the Flyers in the offseason.

The Flyers (10-10-2) arrived in Toronto after a 4-0 victory Friday afternoon against the New York Rangers, while the Maple Leafs (15-8-0) lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-2 Friday night.

The Maple Leafs have lost two consecutive road games for the first time this season but have won three in a row at home.

“It’s going to be an emotional day for me,” said van Riemsdyk, who scored 36 goals last season for Toronto. “It meant a lot for me to play for the Maple Leafs. I enjoyed my time there. It’s something I’ll really look back fondly on. But we’re there to get the two points and excited for the game to come.”

The left winger said the Maple Leafs told him a few weeks before free agency opened that they would be going in a different direction.

“So, I appreciated that fact,” van Riemsdyk said. “Going into free agency is enough of an emotional and stressful time, let alone if you have to weigh a lot of factors. That allowed me to go into free agency with an open mind.”

The Flyers had drafted van Riemsdyk second overall in 2007 and traded him to Toronto for defenseman Luke Schenn in June 2012. As a free agent, van Riemsdyk opted to return to his first team.

“You never really expect to be in the same place twice,” van Riemsdyk said. “But again, it’s a huge thrill for me to get a second chance, to come back here and hopefully we can do some great things on the ice. I’m happy with my choice.”

Van Riemsdyk has 202 goals and 195 assists in 615 games between Toronto and Philadelphia. This season he has been limited to six games because of a lower-body injury.

About returns, Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said Friday before the game: “We think our team’s going to be better, we have significant pieces not here and they will be here.”

An obvious missing piece is center Auston Matthews, who could be returning to competition by the middle of next week after being out with a shoulder injury suffered during the Oct. 27 against the Winnipeg Jets.

Then there is holdout right winger William Nylander. Babcock said that he was “hopeful” that Nylander was going to be signed before the Dec. 1 deadline.

“I’m confident, hopeful,” Babcock said. “I mean, Willie loves hockey. I know Willie well. He is a great teammate and a good person and he loves hockey. He wants to play hockey, you know, so. … I’m betting on that. How’s that?”

The Maple Leafs have been starting games slowly and fell behind Friday night 2-0 for the third game in a row. They were able to overcome that deficit Monday to beat the Blue Jackets 4-2 in Toronto. They have not been so fortunate in their past two games even though they tied the game at 2 Friday. They also lost Wednesday 5-2 against the Carolina Hurricanes.

“I thought (Friday) that might have been as good a road game as we’ve played in a while,” Babcock said. “I thought our guys skated good, we moved the puck. We turned the puck over on the first goal and on their fourth goal. You can’t do that, but the bottom line is we played heavy, we played fast, we did lots of good things. We’ve got to take the energy into (Saturday) night. Obviously, Philly played (Friday), which is nice. They’re sitting at home watching our game and waiting for us. We’ll get re-energized and ready for (Saturday).”

Sean Couturier scored twice, and Calvin Pickard made 31 saves in his fourth career shutout Friday as Philadelphia ended an 0-3-1 skid. Travis Konecny added a goal and two assists and Claude Giroux had three assists as Philadelphia took a season-high 46 shots on goal.

“There weren’t many guys below the bar; there were none, to be honest with you,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “We played a real good 60-minute game. Everybody went out and did their job, from the goaltender on out.”

Pickard has been playing because Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth are sidelined with lower-body injuries. Pickard has made 10 appearances and has a 4-1-2 record.