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Mark Masters

SPORTSCENTRE Reporter

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TSN Toronto Reporter Mark Masters reports on the Maple Leafs, who held an optional skate in Edmonton on Monday ahead of their evening game against the Oilers.


Sheldon Keefe smiled when asked about potentially making changes to a winning lineup. 

"Well, I think we'd always make room for Auston [Matthews]," the Leafs coach said. 

Whether Keefe will be able to write No. 34 onto his lineup card tonight in Edmonton remains unclear. The National Hockey League's leading goal scorer missed Saturday's game with a wrist injury. 

Matthews stayed out late at Monday's optional workout and skated hard, which is something only the projected scratches usually do. Toronto's No. 1 centre still doesn't appear to be shooting the puck particularly hard. Keefe referred to Matthews as a game-time decision. 

The Leafs played extremely well without Matthews during a 4-0 win on Saturday. 

"A really special player who's having an incredible year, so any time you have a guy like that out ... the whole team has to step up," said winger Zach Hyman. "We did that."

The absence of Matthews may open up more shooting opportunities for crafty winger Mitch Marner, who scored his 10th goal of the season on Saturday. 

"When you're playing with a guy like Auston you're always trying to find him in spots and not really thinking of shooting," Marner said after the game. "This year, now, my mindset is still to try and find Auston if I think I can get it to him but, if not, then it's trying to get it on net and realizing that sometimes a play off a goalie is better than a pass. I'm trying to do that more. I worked on my shot a lot this year and I just feel confident when I'm shooting nowadays."

The new-look line of Marner, John Tavares and Joe Thornton found instant chemistry. It was the first time Tavares and Thornton lined up together in a game this season. The trio all touched the puck on Marner's goal. 

"Joe puts himself in a good spot and stretches the ice and [Morgan] Rielly finds him and he finds John in the space that Joe's created underneath," Keefe said. "John attacks the middle of the ice and kicks it back to Mitch and drives through the middle of the ice making it harder on the defence and the goalie and it leads to a goal so there's a lot of things that go into that."

Marner also picked up an assist on the William Nylander power-play goal. 

More impressive than the offence was the responsible two-way play. Toronto's top line outscored the Connor McDavid line 1-0 and kept the Oilers captain quiet most of the night. 

"We didn't really over-complicate things," Marner said. "We were playing smart with the puck. When we were getting it down low we were talking to each other, finding exits out of corners and off the wall. We got to make sure we keep doing that. The communication throughout our D-zone and getting the puck in our hands to go up the ice with speed was very, very good."

The whole Leafs team was very good and very disciplined. Toronto didn't take a single penalty. 

"They played such a good game," said McDavid, who managed just one shot on net. "They were so solid everywhere. They were never in a desperate situation where they needed to hook or hold a guy. Part of that is us not going hard enough to the net or making enough plays. Another part is them just playing so well and being in the right position all of the time."

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Frederik Andersen and Jack Campbell are also listed as game-time decisions. Andersen, like Matthews, stayed out late at the morning skate. Keefe indicated yesterday it was unlikely Toronto's No. 1 goalie would be ready to return from a lower-body injury on Monday. 

For the second straight day, Campbell wasn't on the ice. He returned from a leg injury on Saturday and stopped all 30 shots faced, but also looked to be in discomfort after being run into by Tyler Ennis in the first period. 

Michael Hutchinson was in the starter's net at Monday's skate and also the first goalie off the ice. He's 2-1-0 with a .924 save percentage this season. Hutchinson was in net last season when McDavid scored a highlight-reel against the Leafs in Toronto. 

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The Leafs signed T.J. Brodie in the off-season with these type of matchups in mind. The veteran blueliner stared down McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on Saturday and didn't blink during 22 minutes and 15 seconds of work. 

"He doesn't care who he's playing against," said Keefe. "It doesn't rattle him. It doesn't concern him. He's comfortable in his own game and realizes he's got to stay within his skill set and do what works for him. Even if he gets beat or makes a mistake, he's just going to go back and drink some water and go out and give his best shot the next time out and more often than not it works out for him. That's why he is who he is in the league."

Brodie picked up an assist and finished Saturday's game with a plus-2 rating. The former Flame sees a lot of similarities between current partner Rielly and former running mate Mark Giordano​. 

"They're both great defensively and look to jump offensively," the 30-year-old observed. "They're the type of guys who know how to get open and be available for you to get that outlet pass and, at the same time, they make great, quick passes out of the zone so it's been a pretty easy transition." 

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Hyman is playing through some discomfort right now after blocking a couple of shots off his foot. 

"You can battle through a little bit of pain," he said. "I feel like I am able to skate and do all the things that I can do otherwise. It's more painful not playing, to be honest, when you're out and you're watching games."

Hyman, who missed a couple games with the injury, blocked another shot on Saturday. 

"It's part of the game," he said. "You don't have enough time to think, 'Oh, I should get out of the way on this one.' When you're out there playing, you're not hurt or injured or anything, you're just playing the game so you don't think about it. For me, just go out there and do my job and if there'​s an opportunity to block a shot then get in the lane." 

Hyman wears plastic coverings on his skates, but the initial shot that hurt him hit him in a vulnerable spot. 

"The second time I was lucky I was wearing shot blockers so that definitely helped," he said.

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Jason Spezza snapped a 10-game goal drought in style on Saturday. The 37-year-old completely fooled veteran Oilers goalie Mike Smith.

"That was a sweet move," said linemate Travis Boyd. "We were joking a little bit about how that's his trusty, old go-to move from back in the day. He really got Smith to bite on that fake and that was a sweet move."

"Wow! What a treat it was to watch that," Campbell gushed after the game. "He does it in practice so it was nice to see it on our end."

It was career goal No. 346 for Spezza. How is he able to keep goalies guessing on his go-to move? 

"He sells the shot really well," Boyd said. "A lot of people fake a shot, but it's kind of quick and it doesn't actually fake anyone out. You can kind of read that it's a fake. He sold the fake on the slap really hard and then just pushing it that few feet before he shot it gave him that whole side and really locked up Smith."

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Leafs projected lines for Monday's game: 
 
Thornton - Tavares - Marner 
Barabanov - Kerfoot - Nylander
Mikheyev - Engvall - Hyman 
Vesey - Boyd - Spezza 
 
Rielly - Brodie 
Muzzin - Holl 
Dermott - Bogosian 
 
Hutchinson 
Woll