ST. PAUL, Minn. – As the Toronto Maple Leafs prepared to play without Auston Matthews for a seventh time this season, Mike Babcock made it clear that he’s in no rush to see his star centre return from an undisclosed injury.
The veteran coach appears to have seen the light when it comes to handling players who are unable to suit up. He now keeps his distance even when trainers are working on someone as vital to the team as Matthews – allowing sports science to win out over “Saskatchewan science” around the Leafs.
“I used to ask players questions [about injuries], but what it is, it’s perceived as pressure from the coach,” Babcock said Wednesday. “And especially anything that lingers, if that makes any sense. That’s not my job as coach. … When you’re putting pressure on the guy and he comes back and he gets injured – and you see it all the time, recurring injuries – it makes no sense. Like you’re better, especially in a situation like we are, you buy a little time.
“The other thing about it is no matter who’s away you’ve got to find a way to win games. That’s just it, you know? Suck it up, play right, find a way to win.”
The Leafs are 5-1-0 without Matthews heading into Thursday’s game against the Minnesota Wild. They currently sit second in the Atlantic Division with a 20-11-1 record.
Matthews is already dealing with his third injury/ailment of the season and hasn’t skated since colliding with teammate Morgan Rielly late in Saturday’s win at Pittsburgh.
The 20-year-old sat out four games in early November with a suspected back injury and played through a flu that left him bed-ridden in Edmonton on Nov. 30. The Leafs are calling his latest setback an upper-body injury.
Meanwhile, the team sent winger Nikita Soshnikov back to Toronto on Wednesday because of a lower-body injury. He hasn’t played since Nov. 24 and was retroactively placed on injured reserve Tuesday to allow Kasperi Kapanen to be recalled for the current road trip.
“They thought he was fine and he’s not fine,” Babcock said of Soshnikov. “So get another opinion, whatever we’ve got to do, and got to get it worked out. If a player doesn’t feel right, he can’t play.”