Feb 26, 2021
Leafs wowed 'complete stud' Matthews produced despite nagging injury
Auston Matthews missed Friday's Maple Leafs practice due to a painful hand/wrist injury that has bothered the NHL’s leading scorer for most of the season, but he’s still listed as a game-time decision Saturday night in Edmonton against the Oilers, Mark Masters writes.
By Mark Masters
TSN Toronto Reporter Mark Masters reports on the Maple Leafs, who practiced at the Ford Performance Centre on Friday before travelling to Edmonton to face the Oilers Saturday night in the first game of their three-game set.
Auston Matthews missed Friday's practice due to a nagging injury.
"He's not ruled out for tomorrow," said head coach Sheldon Keefe. "We'll have to see how he continues to progress."
The 23-year-old centre has played through the pain most of the season, but aggravated the hand/wrist issue in the second period of Wednesday's game against the Calgary Flames. Matthews didn't take faceoffs down the stretch and didn't score, but still managed to produce two assists while logging more than 22 minutes.
"While he had to adapt his game and I had to adapt how we used him a little bit, he still competed his ass off right to the very end," Keefe said.
The coach pointed out that Matthews made a nice play to create space for William Nylander before the overtime goal.
"It speaks to how he has remained resilient and hasn't allowed little things like that to disrupt him," Keefe said. "With the injury situation, he has missed a game once already and bounced right back and had a tremendous run."
Matthews missed the Jan. 22 game against Edmonton, but promptly scored in seven straight after that. He leads the NHL with 18 goals in 20 games.
"He's played through some stuff here all year long and he's been a complete stud," said linemate Joe Thornton. "We'll see what happens tomorrow. I'm really not sure what's going to go down."
"He's just a tough customer," said goalie Jack Campbell. "Whatever he's going through, he always gives the team 100 per cent. It’s incredible what he's able to do whether he's 100 per cent or not. I can't wait to get back [and] to battle with him, that's for sure."
If Matthews is unable to play on Saturday in Edmonton, Friday's practice offered insight on what Toronto's lineup will look like. Thornton, who missed the last two games with a lower-body injury, skated with John Tavares and Mitch Marner.
"I felt great," the 41-year-old said. "I skated a little bit yesterday and finally with the guys today so felt real good. I'm just looking forward to playing another game."
Thornton and Tavares stayed out after the main practice ended to work on some plays together.
"He just wants the puck all the time and I think that's a good sign," Thornton said. "He always wants to distribute and handle the puck and he's not afraid of the puck coming to him so I like that. And, off the ice, a real good guy, an easy guy to talk to and when he opens up he's a surprising guy. It's nice."
The second line featured Nylander, Alexander Kerfoot and Alexander Barabanov.
"Barabanov has had two consecutive games where he has really been generating offence and chances each shift virtually, it seems, that he is out there while not hurting us defensively," Keefe said. "That is a positive for his development."
Like on Tuesday, a good chunk of practice was dedicated to special teams work. The once sizzling Leafs power play went 0-for-11 in two games against the Flames.
What needs to happen to get the group back on track?
"Just more volume shooting," Thornton said. "Just funnel as many pucks as you can to the net. This power play is so good and so dangerous. Through the first 18 games it's been unbelievable so a little snapshot shouldn't be worrisome."
Thornton served as the net-front presence on the top unit at practice with Tavares in the bumper, Nylander and Marner on the flanks and Morgan Rielly up top.
Barabanov also got power-play reps on Friday as the net-front presence on the second unit, which featured Kerfoot and Jason Spezza on the flanks, Travis Boyd in the middle and T.J. Brodie as the quarterback.
Jake Muzzin practised with the team for the first time since breaking a bone in his face on Saturday in Montreal. It was initially unclear whether Muzzin was hit by the puck or by the stick of Canadiens forward Tyler Toffoli.
"We're pretty sure it was the stick," the 32-year-old defenceman said. "Me and Toff texted after and right away he said it was [his] stick. I thought it was the stick too, but then the guys were trying to convince me it was the puck."
There was immediate concern for Muzzin, who leads all Leafs blueliners in hits and blocked shots.
"A little bit scary, I'm not going to lie," Muzzin recalled. "You get hit in the face and you black out a little bit and then you see the blood coming. I was just praying the eye was OK ... Shortly after, I was able to open my eye a bit and see so that settled me down and I was able to find my way to the bench. So, definitely a little scared for a minute there, but all good now."
Muzzin will need to wear a full face shield for the foreseeable future.
"It's not that bad, actually," he said. "Maybe some parts in the lower [area] it's tough to see in your feet, but hopefully the puck isn't there during games. I've never worn one. In junior we had cages and I never had a bubble so it's the first time for me."
Muzzin, Thornton and Matthews are all listed as game-time decisions.
Out since suffering a leg injury on Jan. 24, Campbell had his own net at Friday's practice. How's he feeling?
"I'm feeling great, thanks, and ready to go for sure," he said. "Just excited to be back with the guys and happy I get to go on the road with the boys."
"Soupy does look good to go," Keefe said. "Today's practice was another big one for him to get through. He has had a lot of positive days here consecutively. It is looking good. As long as he gets through tomorrow well, he'll start."
Frederik Andersen didn't take part in practice, but was on the ice beforehand doing a workout with Campbell and goalie coach Steve Briere.
"He is continuing to progress," said Keefe. "Him making the decision that he wanted to get on the ice and get a feel for things today is a positive step. He will be on the trip. He continues to be day to day."
"It was a good session," said Campbell. "I didn't quite look at the clock, but we put some work in and Stevey does a great job of preparing us and making us feel really good and working on some plays we might see."
No doubt some of the prep featured Connor McDavid, who scored a couple goals the last time Toronto played the Oilers.
"He's a heck of a player," said Campbell, who has only made one appearance against the Oilers in his career. "I'm not sure how else to say it. He's dangerous in all situations so definitely got to key in on him and 29 [Leon Draisaitl], but we have great guys on our side, too, so I'm really confident on our team."
The Leafs will play five road games in eight days starting on Saturday.
Jimmy Vesey was an extra forward at practice and projects to be a healthy scratch for the first time in his Leafs career on Saturday.
"He hasn't been able to make his mark and really claim his role and what he is going to be able to bring on a consistent basis," Keefe said. "In each game he has played, we have found positives in it. At the same time, he is in a situation where we have had other guys who have come into the lineup with a lot less opportunity and have found a way to make an impact in the game positively, especially offensively."
Vesey only has two goals and one assist this season. He hasn't hit the scoresheet in 13 straight games.
"He's in a situation where he's being challenged and pushed for his ice time," Keefe said. "We do think he has been consistent and reliable defensively. He has helped us on the penalty kill. We like him there. We have found value in his game."
Lines at Friday's practice:
Thornton - Tavares - Marner
Barabanov - Kerfoot - Nylander
Mikheyev - Engvall - Hyman
Petan - Boyd - Spezza
Sabourin, Galchenyuk, Vesey
Rielly - Brodie
Muzzin - Holl
Dermott - Bogosian
Lehtonen - Marincin