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Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews has been ruled out for at least three weeks after suffering a knee sprain during Wednesday’s 3-2 win against the New York Rangers.
Pontus Holmberg slotted into Matthews’ spot during the Maple Leafs’ morning skate, flanked by Calle Jarnkrok and William Nylander. Michael Bunting took Matthews’ place on the first power-play unit.
After a two-game hiatus, Matthews returned to the Maple Leafs’ lineup on Jan. 14.
Matthews will miss next weekend’s All-Star Game and was replaced by Florida Panthers centre Aleksander Barkov.
The reigning Hart Trophy winner, who has 25 goals and 53 points in 47 games this season, was in the midst of an offensive explosion with four goals over his last five games, while playing the best defensive hockey of his career.
“To be honest, I’m not certain whether there was one specific incident,” Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe told reporters following Friday’s morning skate. “I noticed him in a little discomfort a couple of times through the game but didn’t think much of it at the time. He was still sore the next day, so they brought him in for an MRI.”
Keefe said he had no further details on Matthews’ ailment and deferred to the team statement initially.
Although Matthews may not be a leading Hart Trophy candidate this season, he ranks third in individual expected goals, fourth in shots, fourth in individual chances for and fifth in takeaways at 5-on-5, via Natural Stat Trick. There’s an argument to be made that he’s never been as complete as he has been this season, and his absence will be profoundly felt on a Maple Leafs team that has weathered a ton of man games lost this season.
“I think that if there’s anything that we’ve learned about our team this season is that we’ve been resilient no matter who’s been in or out of the lineup,” Keefe said. “I’m not sure where we are in the league in man-games lost but it’s got to be significant.”
Mitch Marner said the team knew of Matthews’ injury but that he worked through the pain to complete Wednesday’s game. Maple Leafs captain John Tavares weighed in on how Matthews’ absence will impact all facets of the game, along with the power play.
“Obviously, Auston is one of the best players in the world. The impact he makes is tremendous. We have to play to our team identity that shows our depth. Guys stepping up in various ways,” Tavares said.
Toronto plays against Ottawa on Friday night, before taking on Washington on Sunday and Boston on Feb. 1 to close out its home stand entering the All-Star break. The Maple Leafs resume their schedule out of the All-Star break in a home-and-home series against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Feb. 10 and 11, respectively. There’s a four-day gap after the Blue Jackets’ series before the Maple Leafs return to action to host the Chicago Blackhawks on Feb. 15.
With a three-week prognosis, Matthews could return against the Blackhawks or against the Montreal Canadiens on Feb. 18. For now, as they’ve all done all year, the Maple Leafs must weather the storm without one of the league’s preeminent players before getting to the break.
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