TORONTO – The Toronto Maple Leafs’ two most important players are likely to return to action Tuesday for the club’s road matchup against the division-leading Tampa Bay Lightning.
Injured No. 1 centre Auston Matthews (shoulder) and starting goaltender Frederik Andersen (upper body) are both expected to play in the club’s next game, said head coach Mike Babcock following Toronto’s 4-0 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.
Matthews ditched his red, no-contact sweater for Saturday morning’s pre-game practice and look much more confident in his shot.
The latter underwent an MRI on his left leg Friday and was spotted walking around Air Canada Centre on Saturday. Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported Komarov could be out two weeks.
Zaitsev skated alone Friday and Saturday, his first time on ice in a week.
“He said he’s feeling better and he was in the room after. That was positive,” Babcock said.
“I think [Matthews] is playing right away here. I’m not 100 per cent certain. Leo, I don’t know for sure. I don’t know if it’s another game, but it’s not long term. I think Freddie is playing right away.”
The Leafs have weathered their recent injury storm well. Backup goalie Curtis McElhinney has been a perfect 3-0 since Andersen’s head got crunched by Alexander Radulov’s knee Wednesday, and Matthews’ three-week absence has allowed William Nylander to audition at centre.
“In the end, you need all your hands on deck, though,” said Babcock, one eye already on the playoffs.
“You need your best lineup. It’s going to be heavy hockey. You lose guys like Leo and [Matthews], they’re heavy guys, they’re strong guys. [Zaitsev] is an ultimate competitor and, obviously, the goaltender [Andersen]. [McElhinney] has done a phenomenal job for us, to say the least.”