Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews sheds non-contact jersey at practice

Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock updates Auston Matthews injury progress, says he's getting close, and when he returns he'll be in better shape than when he left.

The Toronto Maple Leafs received some good news regarding their best player Saturday morning.

Auston Matthews wore his normal practice jersey at the team’s skate ahead of a Hockey Night in Canada showdown with the Montreal Canadiens, indicating he could be nearing a return to the lineup.

The 20-year-old has been able to skate alongside teammates in recent days but was forced to do so in a red non-contact jersey. Matthews did not participate in line rushes Saturday, however, and it still remains unclear when he will be cleared to return to game action.

“I’ve felt better every day,” Matthews told reporters Tuesday. “It’s nice to get on the ice with the guys and kind of take reps … instead of just skating by yourself. You can get your timing and stuff back, which is a big key when I return to play.”

Matthews has missed the past eight games after suffering a separated shoulder in a Feb. 22 contest against the New York Islanders. The team has gone 4-2-2 without Matthews during that stretch.

“It’s obviously frustrating, there’s no question about that,” Matthews added. “Stuff happens. Everything happens for a reason, I guess. You just kind of stick with it and, like I said, do your best to get back. To get healthy. I’ve been doing a good job of staying in shape with my conditioning, working with the trainers and stuff. We’ll see how it goes.”

Matthews has 28 goals and 50 points in 53 games played during the 2017-18 campaign.

Goalie Frederik Andersen, forward Leo Komarov and defenceman Nikita Zaitsev were all absent from Saturday’s practice and will miss Saturday night’s contest along with Matthews.

The Maple Leafs sit comfortably in third place in the Atlantic Division with 11 games remaining in the regular season.

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