While Auston Matthews has been busy pumping in a league-leading 18 goals through 20 games this season, the Maple Leafs’ star has also been quietly battling a hand injury that was aggravated again in Wednesday’s 2-1 overtime win over Calgary.
Matthews still stayed in for Toronto until the very end, and even assisted on both William Nylander‘s game-tying goal and overtime winner.
“That just speaks to the fact that he’s remained resilient and hasn’t allowed little things like that [hand problem] to disrupt him,” said head coach Sheldon Keefe on a Zoom call following practice on Friday.
“He got banged up there in the second period, and while he had to adapt his game and I had to adapt how we used him a little bit, he still competed his [butt] off right to the very end. That’s a good sign for the fact we feel the injury isn’t something that’s going to slow him down too much here.”
Officially, Matthews is listed as day-to-day and did not participate in Friday’s on-ice session before the Leafs head west for a five-game road swing against Edmonton and Vancouver.
Keefe said Matthews is not ruled out for their first of three meetings against the Oilers on Saturday, and will be a game-time decision.
The 23-year-old previously missed one game for Toronto on Jan. 22 – also against Edmonton – when his hand first became an issue. He returned to pocket 16 goals and 26 points in the 15 games since.
During Wednesday’s tilt against the Flames, Matthews was sent into the boards by defenceman Rasmus Andersson in the second period and had his wrist taped up on the bench before play continued.
The state of his hand kept Matthews from taking many faceoffs for Toronto down the stretch, and he didn’t start in overtime because Keefe said Matthews wasn’t confident taking the defensive-zone draw (the centre did win eight of the 12 faceoffs he took on the night).
Matthews was out for the Leafs’ second overtime shift though, and created space for Nylander to roof the winner over David Rittich.
“He’s a tough customer; we’re lucky to have him on our side,” said goaltender Jack Campbell of Matthews. “Whatever he’s going through, he always gives the team 100 per cent and it’s incredible what he’s able to do, whether he’s 100 per cent or not so. I can’t wait to get back to battle with him, that’s for sure.”
If all goes well, Campbell won’t have to wait long. The backup netminder has been sidelined with a lower-body injury suffered in the waning minutes against Calgary on Jan. 24, but barring any setbacks he will take the cage again on Saturday in Edmonton.
That’s good news for Toronto’s goalie depth, which took a massive hit when starter Frederik Andersen joined Campbell on the injured list Monday.
According to Keefe, Andersen is “progressing well” from a lower-body issue and will join the Leafs on their road trip, although there is no timeline on when he might return. Michael Hutchinson had stepped in for Toronto in its two games this week versus the Flames, going 1-1-0 with a .927 save percentage.
“It’s [been] a tough process,” Campbell admitted of his road back to full health. “But thankfully we have an amazing staff here and they just had it all laid out for me. I feel really confident in my body and ready to go out and perform whenever called upon.”
Joe Thornton and Jake Muzzin are also expected to be back for Saturday’s game, although Keefe cautions they too will be game-time decisions. Both players were injured during last Saturday’s game in Montreal – lower body for Thornton and a broken facial bone for Muzzin – and missed the Leafs’ two games at home against Calgary, but were able to practise fully on Friday.
Muzzin spent Friday’s practice testing out a new accessory for the first time his career, sporting a full face shield that will be necessary to protect his still-healing face. While there is some debate over how exactly the injury happened, whether it was the follow-through of Canadiens’ forward Tyler Toffoli’s stick that got him or the puck that went flying by as well, Muzzin said the moments after it happened were unpleasant.
“It was a little bit scary, I’m not going to lie,” Muzzin said. “When you get hit in the face, you kind of black out a little bit and then you see the blood coming, so I was just praying the eye was okay. If [something gets broken], it is what it is, but when you get hit in the eye it can be pretty bad. Shortly after I was able to open my eye a little bit and see, so that settled me down a little bit but we’re good now.”
Knowing what awaits the Leafs in Edmonton, a return to full strength on the back end couldn’t come at a better time.
Since beating Toronto 4-3 in overtime on Jan. 30, the Oilers have collected more points than any team in the NHL, winning 10 of their past 12 and five straight going into Saturday night.
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have been the catalysts for Edmonton outscoring opponents 49-29 in that stretch, and they now sit one-two as the league’s top scorers (40 points for McDavid, 34 for Draisaitl).
Meanwhile, Toronto’s own offence has gone cold, producing only one goal in six regulation periods against Calgary this week while going 0-for-11 on the power play. The Leafs are still atop the NHL standings though at 15-4-2, and getting some key pieces back and healthy could be just what they need for a reset.
“A team like Edmonton has played as good or better than anybody in the league here the last while,” acknowledged Keefe. “But we feel like we’ve been going pretty well as a team here and it’s still real close. You can’t take any games or any days off and certainly this week that’s going to be the case going head-to-head.”
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LeBron James re-injures ankle
James departed the 121-114 loss to the Toronto Raptors with 6:42 remaining in the contest.
“His ankle is battling some soreness,” Los Angeles coach Frank Vogel said afterward. “We decided not to bring him back.”
James was playing for the second time since missing 20 games due to the injured ankle. He said it has tightened up on him at halftime in both games.
Vogel and James were both in wait-and-see mode per whether the star forward could play against Denver.
“The plan is to see how I feel and go from there,” James said.
James also was thinking about the big picture.
“The most important thing for me is to be healthy and be at full strength when it really matters,” James said.
James recorded 19 points, seven rebounds and six assists against Toronto as the slumping Lakers lost for the sixth time in seven games. They are 0-2 since James returned.
“I think our team is predicated on health,” James said. “That is the No. 1 thing for our ball club. We need to be healthy and we need to be at full strength.”
–Field Level Media
FTB: What’s in store for the Maple Leafs in their final five games? – Pension Plan Puppets
Next week the Leafs have three games against the Habs; Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Monday’s game is in Montreal, while the others are in Toronto. Saturday’s game is also the final home game for the regular season. These games could help determine who the Leafs play in the first round since the Jets continue to flounder, losing six games in a row, and are now only two points up on the Habs. Some Montreal wins next week could put them in third place, knocking the Jets down to fourth where they would face the Leafs in the playoffs. That would also mean the Leafs would have to lose to the Habs all week, which… I don’t like any of these options! Just win all the games, Leafs.
The following week the Leafs wrap up the season on the road, with a trip to Ottawa, and then ending it rather unceremoniously on Friday in Winnipeg in what looks to be a regionally blacked-out game broadcast only on TSN4 in Toronto. That certainly lacks the grandeur of the final scheduled game of previous seasons, but hopefully it will be the start of a very long playoff run. The playoff games will all be on Sportsnet with no blackouts on NHL Live.
Hardev caught us up on the Marlies yesterday morning.
The Marlies played the Senators yesterday afternoon and lost 5-3. Joseph Woll was in net. He’s being backed up by Veini Vehvilainen who you may recall the Leafs picked up in exchange for Mikko Lehtonen in early March.
The Marlies host the Senators again this afternoon at 3:00 p.m.
Sportsnet is at it again with the wonky charts. I don’t even know what to do with this one. As Fulemin noted, if Matthew Tkachuk is down to bringing nothing but “size” to his line, it’s no wonder the Flames are having such a bad season.
Then again, this all sort of played out last night as the Flames lost 4-1 and Tkachuk fought (checks notes) Tyson Barrie? What?! Yes, it actually happened. Here’s the video!
The Hurricanes’ goalie picked up a primary assist on this game winner. Also <3 Dougie
The next Connor: Hockey’s latest phenom went distance to find a game in pandemic – CBC
Connor Bedard, the first player granted exceptional status to suit up in the WHL a year early and tabbed as the likely first pick in the 2023 NHL draft, saw his inaugural junior season put on ice by COVID-19. That began a long road, including a trip to Sweden with his sister, to where he is now.
Capital Gains: Van Riemsdyk Making Most of Opportunity – Japers’ Rink
The 29-year-old has maintained a positive attitude despite an up-and-down season, and it’s paying off in his return to the lineup and sudden resurgence.
High school hockey in desert flourishing despite lack of AIA sanction – PBS
Hockey is one of the few sports not sanctioned by the AIA, but it has managed to be successful. Much of that has to do with the Arizona High School Hockey Association.
Enjoy your Sunday. Our Back to Excited podcast has been postponed until Tuesday this week.
Canada sends medical supplies to India as COVID-19 overwhelms country’s health care – Global News
Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Wednesday – CBC.ca
The latest news on COVID-19 developments in Canada for Wednesday, May 5, 2021 – moosejawtoday.com
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