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Auston Matthews hasn’t scored in three games since returning to the Maple Leafs lineup from a right hand/wrist issue.
It’s not a coincidence.
“It has been all right,” Matthews said on Monday following practice at the Ford Performance Centre.
“I think I still need it to progress a bit. I definitely would like to see it heal a bit.
“I’m still trying to find my rhythm, for sure. Physically my legs and lungs feel fine, it’s just getting my timing back.”
Matthews also didn’t score in two games before he missed the Leafs’ first two games in Edmonton to start a five-game trip that ended with a pair of losses in Vancouver.
When the Leafs open a three-game set against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday at Scotiabank Arena, coach Sheldon Keefe won’t be tapping Matthews on the shoulder and telling him to go fill the net on each shift. Keefe recognized that his No. 1 centre requires some time to find a groove again, and it’s not as though Matthews has dropped off the radar on offence.
True, Matthews did not have a point in the past three games — his longest drought of the 2020-21 season — but he did have 15 shots on goal.
“It’s clear that (the issue) affects his shot,” Keefe said. “We’ve moved him around on the power play as a result of that, as he is not as comfortable as when he was shooting.
“He has shown he is good in a lot of other areas. It doesn’t seem to be affecting his ability to handle the puck or pass the puck.
“And he’s dealing with a couple things. He’s dealing with the mental effect that not being 100% himself has on his game, and the fact he has missed time.
“He has found ways to generate chances and shots. He has made plays for his linemates (Mitch Marner and Joe Thornton).”
The Leafs are going to see a lot of the Jets in their next 23 games (nine times) and this set will begin with a large points gap between the teams in the North Division. Toronto leads the group of seven with 38 points, and prior to Monday, the Jets were in second with 31 points, though Edmonton was looking to move one point past Winnipeg in its game against Ottawa.
The Jets were crushed on Saturday in Montreal by the Canadiens, but previously had won six of seven.
The match on Tuesday marks the first meeting between the Leafs and Jets since Jan. 18. In that time, Winnipeg traded Patrik Laine to Columbus for Pierre-Luc Dubois.
It’s a formidable group of Jets forwards, led by Mark Scheifele, that has the potential to give the Leafs defence corps trouble. Toronto will keep in mind what it did well against Edmonton last week in minimizing potential damage from Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
“We have to stay with that model (that worked versus the Oilers) and be consistent with it, be responsible with the puck,” Keefe said. “When we don’t have it, we have to have as many numbers as we can above the puck and make it hard on them.
“Dubois has come in and when you look at their depth at centre, it’s the foundation of great depth throughout their lineup.
“They’ve got a lot of confidence. They’ve been playing well as a team.”
The Matthews line had little going for it on Saturday against the Canucks, though the play of the three is not a source of concern for Keefe.
One can imagine that Matthews, whose 18 goals in 23 games continued to lead the NHL, wants to put an end to his recent zeroes. If Matthews doesn’t score on Tuesday, it will mark the first time in two years he won’t have scored in six consecutive games in which he has played. Such a skid has not occurred for the 23-year-old since Feb. 27-March 9, 2019.
“He is bringing a lot of positive things to us and in time, it’s the type of injury that will heal itself,” Keefe said. “We have been told it’s not the kind of thing that’s going to get worse. It’s just something that he has to play through and he has been doing a good job of that.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021