Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews out vs. Oilers due to upper-body soreness

Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares discusses the injuries the Maple Leafs are going through and says that the team needs to find a way to elevate their game.

TORONTO — Auston Matthews will miss Friday’s Toronto-Edmonton game with upper-body soreness after suffering a minor injury when the teams met earlier this week.

His absence is believed to be precautionary and isn’t expected to keep him out of the lineup long term.

“I’m not too concerned,” said Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe. “There was a possibility that he would play today, but he just wasn’t feeling right. So we’re going to give it a little bit more time.”

The team will be down two-thirds of its top line for the rematch against the Oilers with Joe Thornton also sidelined by a rib fracture. That injury was suffered on a hit from Josh Archibald and will keep Thornton out at least four weeks, according to Keefe. The veteran pivot was also placed on the team’s LTIR.

Matthews played 24:04 during Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to Edmononton and scored the Leafs’ only goal. He drew the matchup with Connor McDavid, and Toronto generated 60 per cent of the shot attempts during the 12 minutes where they went head-to-head at 5-on-5.

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That matchup will likely fall to captain John Tavares in the return meeting, although Keefe wasn’t tipping his hand on how the new lines would shake out with Adam Brooks, Alexander Barabanov and Pierre Engvall drawing in.

“I think everyone has to find ways to elevate,” said Tavares. “Obviously Connor is such a great player. He’s going to get the pucks at times and it’s just trying to really make him have to come through five people and not let him get into too much open ice and making him feel good about having the puck a lot on his stick and getting into good areas without having to really earn that ice, earn that space.”

Matthews briefly took the ice before Thursday’s practice and departed early, and didn’t take part in an optional skate at Scotiabank Arena on Friday morning. He is believed to have tweaked something while engaging in a battle with Jesse Puljujarvi during Wednesday’s game.

Toronto sets out on a four-game road trip this weekend, with two games in Calgary and another two in Edmonton.

Matthews has two goals and five points so far this season, and has delivered the strongest underlying results among Leafs forwards by generating 66 per cent of even-strength shot attempts and a 62 per cent expected goals rate.

He dressed for all 70 of the team’s games last season.

The Leafs are 20-12-2 without Matthews in the lineup since his NHL career began in 2016-17.


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