The Maple Leafs and Jets held full skates on Monday morning.
Patrik Laine will miss tonight’s game with an upper-body injury. The Winnipeg Jets winger took the ice briefly at the morning skate but like at Sunday’s practice, he departed after only a few minutes.
"There wasn’t anything in the game [last week] that he was worried about. He was aware of it, but it was just minor," coach Paul Maurice said. "Then he came out [Sunday] and couldn’t warm it up, it couldn’t get to the point where he felt comfortable with it. He treated it, rested it and same thing [today]. He wants to be sure that he can perform with it. We’ve got to get this thing healed.
"I don’t have a timeline for you. I’m not looking at this, unless something changes, as long term. The day-to-day is an honest assessment in my mind of where he’s at. It’s going to get questioned because we happen to play six games in the next nine [days]. We want to get him back in the lineup. You wish you had more time between games to let it heal. We don't, but we won’t put him back in until he’s confident that he can be the player that he was."
So, we won't see a showdown between the top two picks in the 2016 draft, but Auston Matthews facing Mark Scheifele is a pretty compelling matchup on its own. The pair of top-line centres look primed for big years.
Matthews dropped more than 10 pounds during the off-season and is already reaping the rewards of that hard work.
"He's on the puck a lot quicker," observed Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe. "His stamina seems to be better as well with the way he’s able to maintain that speed and pressure on the puck throughout his shift. That was really evident right from Day 1 of camp. Our first few days, in particular, were pretty demanding for the guys with lots of skating and he was right at the front of the pack.”
Scheifele couldn’t help but smile when asked about facing a leaner Matthews tonight.
"Standard Toronto media,” the Kitchener, Ont., native said with a chuckle. "I think you guys talk about [player] weight fluctuations more than anyone. Playing against him is always a fun challenge ... maybe his loss of weight will make him a little easier in the corners, but we’ll see tonight.”
Matthews, who is averaging 23 minutes and 19 seconds of ice time per game, scored his first goal of the season on Saturday and the chemistry with new linemate Joe Thornton and Mitch Marner is getting better and better.
“All three games I think we’ve done some really positive stuff,” noted Matthews. "There’s just been times where [there’s] a little bit of miscommunication especially in the D-zone.”
"It was really our first good game together," Marner said Saturday night. "We were moving well. I think down low we were creating a lot of chances, holding onto the puck. We weren’t rushing plays. I think we’re really using our creativity out there and that’s something we weren’t doing the first two games.”
Matthews and Scheifele both get pumped for these type of one-on-one battles.
"Always fun going against top players in this League,” Matthews said. "I think it raises your game and you want to make sure you come out ready to play."
Matthews got the competitive juices flowing before training camp by spending some time on the ice with Oilers centre Connor McDavid down in Arizona.
“I’m not sure I can I say, ‘I figured this guy out,’ because I don’t think anybody has or will,” said the 23-year-old, "but it’s always fun to get down there and be around good players and pick their brains and try and learn new stuff.”
Scheifele looked good in Winnipeg’s opener, scoring a goal and logging 26 minutes and 21 seconds of ice time in an overtime victory against the Flames.
“We’ve played one game, but you look at the style of hockey he played in that one game, that was a leader’s game,” said Maurice. "He was putting as much into his D-zone coverage as his offensive-zone play ... His shift length five-on-five was a leader’s shift length. He’s not out there for a minute, 10 [seconds] sniffing for points. He’s just grinding. That’s the natural progression of a guy developing into becoming your next captain.”
Scheifele has scored in four straight games against the Leafs and has 19 points in 14 career games against his hometown team.
“Every time I come to Toronto you’re a little extra ramped up for the game, because you’re playing in front of all your friends and family and you want to put on a show for mom and dad,” Scheifele said.
Of course, it’s a bit different this year with no fans allowed inside Scotiabank Arena and players limited to the rink and hotel on the road.
“I talked to my dad for a little while last night and it definitely stinks not being able to see them, but I know they’ll be watching and cheering from home,” Scheifele said. “They’ll be with me in spirit."
A couple defencemen will be making their NHL debuts tonight. Waterloo, Ont. native Logan Stanley gets the call for the Jets. The 2016 first round pick found out officially on the ice at the morning skate.
“I had a big smile on my face,” Stanley said. “I would love to have my family and friends here tonight. It’s a special night for me and definitely something I’ve dreamed of for a long time ... to have it in Toronto is pretty cool [growing up] about an hour away from here and growing up watching the Leafs a lot."
The Leafs will dress seven defencemen, which allows KHL import Mikko Lehtonen to get in.
"We wanted to give him last week to watch the games and be in more meetings and get a better feel for things,” said Keefe. "We don't want too much time to elapse before he gets in a game so we want to get him going today and get a feel for how he can compete in the league."
Lehtonen will be the quarterback on the second power-play unit.
"The nature of training camp and no exhibition season is you can’t really get the kinks out, you can’t make the adjustments, you can’t make the mistakes in those games that don’t matter, and have it cleaned up by the time you’re playing for real,” noted Keefe. "It makes it real difficult for Lehtonen and [Alexander] Barabanov for that matter."
Barabanov will be a scratch for a second straight game.
Frederik Andersen starts for the Leafs tonight, but Keefe revealed Jack Campbell will get some more games in the next little bit.
"I definitely see us mixing him in,” Keefe said. "We’re not just waiting on the back to backs for him. But, in terms of when he will play again, we will take it a day at a time. Fred is going to go today, and we’ll take it from there.”
The Leafs only play one back-to-back set between now and the end of February.
Andersen is off to a sluggish start having allowed nine goals in two games. Campbell was steady in stopping 17 of 19 shots in a win against Ottawa on Saturday. Keefe described Campbell as “excellent” in his first start since March.
Connor Hellebuyck is the projected starter for the Jets. He won the Vezina Trophy last season, but had an .822 save percentage in two games against the Leafs, which was his worst mark against any team.
The Leafs and Jets have combined to average more than seven goals an outing in eight games during the Matthews-Laine era.
Toronto lost Aaron Dell on waivers to the New Jersey Devils today. Michael Hutchinson moves up to No. 3 on the goalie depth chart.
Leafs winger Nick Robertson will miss at least four weeks with a knee injury sustained on Saturday night in Ottawa.
Keefe said the initial fears were he’d be out longer and termed the MRI results as actually “good news."
Projected Leafs lineup for Monday’s game:
Thornton - Matthews - Marner
Nylander - Tavares - Vesey
Mikheyev - Kerfoot - Hyman
Spezza - Simmonds
Rielly - Brodie
Muzzin - Holl
Dermott - Bogosian
Projected Jets lineup for Monday’s game:
Ehlers - Scheifele - Wheeler
Connor - Stastny - Perreault
Copp - Lowry - Appleton
Harkins - Thompson - Lewis
Morrissey - Niku
Forbort - Pionk
Stanley - Beaulieu