Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews has taken in his first full practice with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He skated Sunday in a non-contact jersey, marking his first team practice since he hurt his left shoulder.
Matthews has missed the past nine games. He sustained the injury when he was hit by Jacob Trouba of the Winnipeg Jets on October 27 and it, truthfully, seems like ages ago.
And it may still be a while until he’s set to return, too, but the Maple Leafs aren’t panicking.
“He’s got to work and get back in shape,” head coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s been able to skate the whole time, but until he’s every day in here, I don’t know when he’s returning.”
On Sunday, Matthews wore he red sweater and skated as an extra during line rushes. He did not participate in any contact drills, of course, and he sat out on power play drills.
Toronto has gone 6-3-0 since Matthews went down and that’s given the team a wealth of fortitude. It’s also given the forward the indulgence to get back to playing when he is prepared, not when he is required.
“You’ll just know (when you’re ready), I guess,” Matthews said. “Taking contact, feeling back in game shape, being able to do a full practice, all that kind of stuff. A lot of protocol you have to go through. In all honesty, it doesn’t really matter. I’m going to come back when I feel ready. It’s great to see us getting a lot of wins though.”
Matthews has 16 points in 11 games this season and was playing at an amazing pace before the Trouba hit.
He was initially expected to miss four weeks, but it’s looking more and more like that earlier timeline is going to shoot past the mark. When the Maple Leafs face the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday, that will signify his projected return date. And right now, there’s no way he’ll be back in time for that contest.
But at least Matthews has been hanging with the lads, which has kept him in the loop as far as little details like team morale.
“One of the hardest things about being hurt is you almost feel like you’re not on the team,” Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner said. “You’re kind of isolated a bit. For him to come eat dinner with us and just be around the guys was good for his mental state.”
That mental state will help as his recovery logs on, but it also has to help that his team is winning – even without holdout William Nylander.
Perhaps that’s what’s most conspicuous about this team this season: any other year, the collective bulk of the Nylander problem and the Matthews injury would have these Maple Leafs out of the running already.
But this year? There’s something different in that old blue and white and Toronto is not only in the running, they’re leading the charge.