TORONTO -- Defenseman Mike Komisarek wasn't in the lineup on Oct. 17 when the Canes first played the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre.
Canes coach Kirk Muller didn't think it was the right time and certainly not the right place. Komisarek, who will play Sunday against the Leafs, spent parts of the past four seasons in Toronto -- a high-priced free agent who had fallen out of favor and played just four games for the Leafs last season.
"He didn't play much hockey last year and we were still sorting out our group," Muller said Sunday. "I talked to Mike. I didn't think it was the right time to throw him right back into a game here in Toronto after the last couple of years of playing here.
"We just said, 'Hey, we want to go step by step with you this year and regain your confidence and grow as a player.' He's been a great pro and handled all the sitting out and healthy scratches well."
Komisarek, a former NHL All-Star, signed a one-year contract with the Canes in July. Come the start of the season, he badly wanted in when the Canes first visited Toronto.
"In the back of your mind, you look at the schedule and you always want to get into that game against your former team and contribute and have a good game and get two points out of it," Komisarek said Sunday. "I was a little bummed out last game but I’m looking forward to tonight.
"The older you get in this league, you learn you have something to prove every night. You've got to bring it, you've got to prove it. Tonight is definitely one of those nights."
Komisarek will be paired with Tim Gleason, and the other defensive pairs will be Justin Faulk-Andrej Sekera and Ron Hainsey-Brett Bellemore. Ryan Murphy, who scored his first NHL goal in the Oct. 17 game, will be a healthy scratch, Muller said.
Cam Ward, who was in net in the 3-2 win over the Leafs in October, will start Sunday, Muller said. Ward has played one game since Dec. 10 -- against Washington on Dec. 20 -- as Justin Peters started five of the past six games.
Komisarek, who was a healthy scratch in 26 games for the Leafs last season, did not play in 15 of the Canes' first 18 games this season. But he continued to work hard in practice and was a veteran presence in the room, keeping an upbeat attitude.
"He's played in two difficult markets and when things don't go well it's not easy," said Muller, who was an assistant coach in Montreal when Komisarek was a member of the Canadiens. "But he's simplified his game. I think he's maturing and understanding his responsibilities."
Komisarek was in the lineup Friday against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Muller said he liked the way he competed, adding, "This is a great opportunity for him to come in and build on that game and feel comfortable (playing) in Toronto."
Komisarek, with a straight face, called it "just another hockey game" Sunday in talking to the media. The Canes, he said, need victories after losing four straight and seven of eight.
"Oh, I think he's excited," Muller said. "This is a big game for him to come back. He wants to do well. He also knows the big picture, that we need to get some points.
"The thing we worked with him on is less is better. For him to go out to show that he can play and be aggressive and run around is not the game we want him to play. We just want him to feel relaxed and just play the game."