The Maple Leafs continue their season Monday night and will have star forward Auston Matthews back in the lineup.
“I’m pumped,” Matthews said Sunday. “It’s not a lot of fun to watch, and it looks like the guys are having a lot of fun out there. So I’ve been itching to get back in.”
Matthews missed Toronto’s first three games (2-1-0). Last week, Matthews said he wanted to make sure he was at his best before slotting in.
“I don’t personally feel like I’m at the point that I feel 100 percent comfortable to play,” he told reporters Monday. “That’s really all it is. I feel good physically and everything. I just think I need a little bit more time.”
Matthews and the Leafs will face off against the Rangers on Monday night, marking their first non-Canadian opponent since a March 10, 2020, win vs. the Lightning.
What is Auston Matthews’ injury?
The Maple Leafs announced on Aug. 13 that Matthews underwent wrist surgery after dealing with discomfort when he increased his on-ice training earlier in the week. He was expected to miss a minimum of six weeks at the time, which would have put him ready to go around the start of training camp. He took a little bit more time before slotting into a game.
Matthews dealt with an achy wrist throughout the 2021 NHL season, missing four games.
“I think it’s something that can be treated. He’s been dealing with it for a long time now throughout this season,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said in late February following the team’s 2-1 overtime win against the Flames (in which Matthews didn’t feel comfortable taking a faceoff in the extra session).
The first sign of an issue came on Jan. 22, when the American — who has already been named to the 2022 Olympic team — left during a win over the Oilers. He did not practice the following day and said after playing two nights later that he had “some issues there with my hand that I was going through.”
During Episode 2 of the Amazon docuseries, “All or Nothing,” Matthews tells a teammate he jammed his wrist.
NHL 2021-22: SN Stanley Cup predictions | Top 10 forwards
When is Auston Matthews expected back?
It was already been determined before the season started that Matthews will miss the first three games of the 2021-22 regular season. The Maple Leafs played the Canadiens on Wednesday before a home-and-home with the Senators on Thursday (in Ottawa) and Saturday (in Toronto).
“He went through last season where he was not playing at 100 percent and he’s gone through this procedure to be in that position (to play at 100 percent),” Keefe said (via The Hockey News’ David Alter). “We’ll make sure that we’re patient enough to allow that to happen.”
Before the Senators game on Saturday, per Alter, Keefe said that Matthews was feeling good and progressing but there was no timetable on his return. Things changed the next day.
For the first time in almost two years, the expectation is that Toronto will play a full 82-game slate, so there was plenty of time to ease Matthews back into the lineup. Last season, despite the wonky wrist, he scored an NHL-best 41 goals to win the Rocket Richard Trophy. There is still thought among pundits he will once again be in the conversation as the league’s top goal scorer this season, despite missing the start of the season.
While it is a long season, the Leafs hoped to jump out to a quick start after coming off yet another disappointing season. The team was ousted in the first round of the playoffs — again — in 2021, this time by their opening night opponent, the Canadiens. Losing Matthews left a hole in the lineup, as he centers the top line. Captain John Tavares took his spot between Mitchell Marner and Nick Ritchie, and the right circle on the power play.
Also on the shelf is forward Ilya Mikheyev, who underwent successful surgery to repair a broken thumb. He is out for eight weeks and on long-term injured reserve.