Okay, let’s talk about Auston Matthews.
On November 8, we mentioned that the Toronto Maple Leafs forward was set to miss a game against the Minnesota Wild. That was to be his first missed game due to injury in his career and he was listed as day-to-day with an upper body injury.
Fast-forward to November 13 and Matthews still hasn’t skated for the Maple Leafs. He’s now missed the past three games and was not on the ice as the club practiced Monday.
Matthews hasn’t played since last Monday against the Vegas Golden Knights.
Now, the good news. Matthews skated on his own prior to practice on Monday and will do the same on Tuesday. If there are no concerns following his Tuesday skate, he’ll join the team for practice on Wednesday. If all goes well on Wednesday, it’s very possible that Matthews will join the team for Thursday’s game against the New Jersey Devils.
So, disaster averted. Probably.
The Maple Leafs have won without Matthews in the lineup, but his absence is obvious notable and has been one of the only stories coming out of Toronto over the last few days because Toronto. But coming to terms with his absence over a short haul and coming to terms with a longer stint on the pine requires a bridge too long for this current crop of Maple Leafs to get over.
“He’s irreplaceable,” said centre Nazem Kadri. “He’s not a guy that you can just throw any other player in the lineup and fill his shoes.”
Matthews currently leads the team in scoring with 19 points in 16 games. He has 10 goals.
And let’s be clear, Toronto has gone through it and then some this season. They’ve played 19 games in 39 days, with only the Arizona Coyotes and Pittsburgh Penguins seeing as much action. It’s no wonder William Nylander and Tyler Bozak skipped practice on Monday.
Approaching the Maple Leafs with or without Matthews has taken some doing, too. This is a perplexing team, with a 12-7-0 record but some deeper issues in the numbers. They haven’t controlled the play as much as they’d like, even if they lead the league in scoring chances. They’ve been outshot in each of their last five games and that may have a lot to do with the Matthews absence, which illustrates how good he can be defensively.
While his return is by no means a done deal, it does look like Toronto will emerge from this experience relatively unscathed. They’ve had the depth and capacity to do the job without their best player. But he’s still, to steal a phrase from Nazem Kadri and Beyoncé, irreplaceable.