PHILADELPHIA – For those keeping score at home, Auston Matthews has now taken two shifts and missed two games since colliding chin-to-shoulder with teammate Morgan Rielly over the weekend.
The Toronto Maple Leafs centre will not play Tuesday against the Philadelphia Flyers – a predictable development that left Mike Babcock playing coy about the condition of his star player.
Babcock foreshadowed the kind of exchange we got at Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday morning when he was asked a couple weeks back about a decision by Dallas Stars counterpart Ken Hitchcock to be more transparent when it comes to discussing injuries.
“I think Hitch said we should reveal everything and I don’t disagree, except I don’t like talking about head injuries,” Babcock said on Nov. 25. “Because as soon you say there’s a head injury, then there are all these things about concussions and half the time it’s the neck or something, and I never want to talk about that. I want the player and the right people to work that out, not for [outside] people to get involved. I don’t disagree with anything except that.”
Given the coach’s stance on head injuries – and the fact Matthews took a blow to the head four days ago – it seems natural to conclude that the 20-year-old forward is dealing with an issue in that region of his body.
However, Babcock’s media scrum had a “Whose on first?” quality to it after Matthews failed to take part in Tuesday’s morning skate.
Reporter: Is Auston out for tonight?
Reporter: He’ll be in?
Babcock: Pardon me? No, not playing tonight, no.
Reporter: Is he with the team on the trip?
Reporter: Will you see him [playing] at some point on the trip?
Babcock: I mean I think he’s playing – he’s day to day, so I think he’s playing every day. Day to day is normally 10 days, but we’ll go day to day until he’s ready. But I mean he’s here this morning and doing everything, but he didn’t skate and he’s not playing.
Reporter: After that collision in Saturday’s game did he go through collision protocol? After that?
Babcock: Well I don’t know exactly what happened there, but I didn’t know he had a concussion. I didn’t know.
So here we are. We know for certain that Matthews didn’t go through any concussion testing in real time because there was less than three minutes to play in Saturday’s game when he collided with Rielly. He returned for two shifts afterwards and helped the Leafs close out a 4-3 win in Pittsburgh, but didn’t dress the following night for a 1-0 home win over Edmonton.
In hindsight, it’s surprising that the Matthews injury didn’t catch the attention of the NHL’s independent concussion spotters.
They are looking for one of four signs when evaluating whether a player should be removed from the game for examination, and Matthews seemed to exhibit one of them by clutching his head while gliding hunched over to the bench immediately after impact.
He’s had a rough go of late.
Matthews missed four games in early November with a suspected back injury and played through a flu in Edmonton on Nov. 30 after spending the day in bed. The Leafs have managed to win all five games without him this season, but they’ve been fortunate to do so – getting heavily outshot (170-125) and out-attempted at even strength (244-191) in the process.
Toronto is scheduled to practise in St. Paul, Minn., on Wednesday afternoon before playing the Minnesota Wild on Thursday. It concludes the road trip in Detroit on Friday night.
Whether Matthews is back on the ice any time soon is anyone’s guess.
The coach certainly isn’t saying.