"I don't think anyone's ever happy when they sit out. It's not ideal," Gardiner said after the morning skate. "But when the team's playing well, that's just how it goes sometimes. I'm just excited to get back in the lineup."
The 24-year-old blue-liner sat out in part because rookie Stuart Percy performed well enough that coach Randy Carlyle couldn't justify taking him out. Gardiner will replace veteran Stephane Robidas, scratched after struggling through the first four games of the season.
Gardiner said Carlyle knows he can play better.
"Just elevate my game to where it was last year and I think I'll be fine," he said.
Asked what he was looking for out of Gardiner, Carlyle said it wasn't one specific thing. He's hoping to get an "all-inclusive" game from everyone.
"I expect him to play to a higher level and move the puck more effectively, be stronger defensively, take the body when it presents itself," Carlyle said. "There's always so much made about what has to be done that it just has to be a hockey player, an effective hockey player."
Gardiner is expected to play alongside friend and roommate Morgan Rielly. The two young pillars of the future blue-line in Toronto were together for the season opener, as well.
Rielly would know better than most how Gardiner handled sitting out. The 20-year-old said Gardiner's demeanour never dipped.
"Jake's a true professional and he knows why he didn't play but I think he's ready to come back," Rielly said. "He's going to play well. He's driven. He wants to prove to Randy that he's a top-end defenceman in this league."
The 37-year-old Robidas played with Anaheim last season but suffered a broken leg in the playoffs. He will sit out after playing just 13:28 in Tuesday's victory over the Colorado Avalanche.
Carlyle pegged Robidas' early-season problems on the fact that the injury forced him to miss much of training camp and all but one pre-season game. He likened it to defenceman Cody Franson's uneven play a year ago amid a contract stalemate.
"Players are going to tell you that they hate training camp," Carlyle said. "Coaches hate training camp, too, because it's long days and it's lots of exhibition games. It really lays the foundation for the player as far as a building block.
"They don't like the practices, they don't like playing the games, the back-to-backs, the skates that take place in it, but in the long haul it seems that players (who) don't have the opportunity to participate in training camp have lulls through the course of the season."
Up front, winger Joffrey Lupul will play after missing Thursday's practice with what Carlyle called a lower-body injury. Lupul bristled at questions about his health and called it just a maintenance day.
"Everything's fine," Lupul said. "It's not an issue. I'll be there tonight, I'll be there tomorrow."
James Reimer makes his third consecutive start in goal for the Leafs after winning the past two. Jimmy Howard gets the nod for Detroit.
The Red Wings will not have star Pavel Datsyuk on the ice for the home-and-home set against the Leafs because of a shoulder injury. Datsyuk did not make the trip to Toronto with the team.
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