TORONTO – A battle of the NHL’s top young players might be down one of its star attractions.
Auston Matthews is considered a game-time decision for the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday with Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers in town. Matthews took a blow to the head late in Saturday’s victory in Pittsburgh.
"He’s one of those guys that’s bumped and bruised here today," coach Mike Babcock said Sunday morning. "So we’ll just go through it. We’ve had a couple guys that are – you know, it’s the season, you’re playing hockey. You see who’s available at game time."
Matthews was tracking back in the defensive zone when he collided with teammate Morgan Rielly on Saturday. He took the brunt of the contact to the chin and glided back to the bench hunched over after Pittsburgh scored at 17:12 of the third period.
The 20-year-old centre wasn’t put through concussion testing at that time and returned for two more shifts, including the final 1:01 as Toronto preserved a 4-3 win.
Only two Leafs skaters participated in a very optional skate at Air Canada Centre on Sunday morning – defenceman Connor Carrick and forward Josh Leivo – and Babcock wouldn’t reveal any lineup changes beyond backup Curtis McElhinney getting the start in goal.
"We’ve got a few guys bumped and bruised," said Babcock. "So after warmup we’ll know where it’s going."
It’s been a difficult stretch for Matthews, who sat out four games with a suspected back injury last month and has only scored once in his last nine games. That came last week in Edmonton when the Leafs won 6-4 at Rogers Place.
The sophomore still leads the Leafs with 26 points on the season.
McDavid has a team-best 35 for the Oilers and will be playing an NHL game in his hometown for just the second time ever. Even though both teams are completing a back-to-back that included travel, Babcock doesn’t believe it’ll be a tough game for either to get up for.
"I think the mind drives the body and if you come in here and you feel tired and you let yourself feel like that, you’re tired," he said. "I mean I guarantee you if we had something fun to do, they’d find lots of juice to do it."