TORONTO — Auston Matthews’ pursuit of the Rocket Richard Trophy has temporarily been grounded.
The NHL’s leader in goals will miss Thursday’s visit from the Winnipeg Jets with a left hand/wrist injury similar to the one that kept him out of three previous games this season. Matthews appeared briefly on the ice at Scotiabank Arena to test things out before the morning skate and departed just as his Toronto Maple Leafs teammates started getting put through their paces.
“We’re not expecting it to be something that’s going to hold him out for long,” said Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe.
Matthews is believed to have aggravated his injury after getting hit along the boards by Michael Stone late in the second period of Tuesday’s game against Calgary. He went immediately to the bench afterwards.
The Leafs centre is scoring at a ridiculous pace of 0.8 goals per game this season and his total of 32 is six better than the league’s next best, Mikko Rantanen of the Colorado Avanlanche, despite the games missed due to injury.
The Leafs are still 3-0-0 without Matthews in the lineup this season.
“It will be by committee, because nobody can fill Auston’s role,” said Zach Hyman.
William Nylander is one more negative COVID-19 test away from being released out of NHL protocol.
The Leafs forward has been in isolation since Apr. 7 after coming into close contact with someone who later exhibited symptoms. Nylander reported that interaction to the team at the earliest opportunity, drawing praise from head coach Sheldon Keefe for being up front about it.
As it turned out, the contact wound up producing negative tests — as has the 24-year-old Nylander to this point. One week later it looks like a false alarm.
Nylander should rejoin the Leafs at practice on Friday and will be put back into the lineup as soon as he feels comfortable.
“I spoke with him [Thursday] night,” said Keefe. “You know he’s feeling good, he’s been able to get a little bit of activity. Like everybody’s been doing when they’re in isolation, the bike and some weights, you’re doing what you can. But really we’re just going to see how he is when he gets on the ice and how he feels.
“Ultimately it’ll be up to Will and how he’s feeling and we’ll make the decision from there. But I’m not locked into anything, it’s really just going to be up to Will when he feels he’s ready we’ll get him back going again.”
The Leafs are next scheduled to play in Vancouver on Saturday — although that game is currently in question. More on that below.
Thursday marked the first time the media had seen Frederik Andersen in full equipment since his last start on Mar. 19, although Keefe indicated the injured goalie had snuck in previous sessions.
“This wasn’t his first time on the ice,” Keefe revealed.
Still, it marked an interesting development given how much mystery has surrounded the lower-body injury the team’s former No. 1 goalie is dealing with.
Andersen was placed on long-term injured reserve just before the trade deadline, which allowed the Leafs to exceed the salary cap ceiling while he’s out, and seemed to point to him being done for the regular season. That notion was underscored by the decision to acquire goaltender David Rittich from Calgary as well.
It’s not clear if they’d even be able to make the roster moves necessary to activate him before the start of the playoffs, which may end up being a moot discussion because it doesn’t sound like he’ll be healthy to play any time soon.
“The fact that he’s back out here again today after skating previously is a good sign that he’s making progress,” said Keefe. “I don’t think he’s close at this point to actually playing, but this is all part of the process. My understanding is he’s going to come on the road with us [next week] so that’s very, very encouraging.
“It’s really, really good to have him back out there in his gear.”
Added teammate Justin Holl, “He said he’s been feeling better and better. I’m just hoping that he can get healthy. We’re definitely going to need him.”
At this point it’s up in the air whether the Leafs weekend visit to Vancouver will go ahead as planned.
The Canucks are scheduled to host Toronto on Saturday and Monday after an extended gap in their schedule brought on by an outbreak of a COVID-19 variant. There is some debate about whether those games will be played after Canucks forward J.T. Miller voiced concerns that the players weren’t being given an adequate amount of time to regain their fitness.
“It’s a tough situation,” said Holl. “I don’t know if there’s one concrete answer I can give because I don’t really know what they’re going through in Vancouver and I don’t know what kind of pressure the league is under to get the season completed.”
The Leafs are simply in wait-and-see mode.
“You’re sensitive to what they’re going through, but difficult to really speak too much on it because I don’t know for certain what’s happening there,” said Keefe.