Auston Matthews is expected to return from a sprained knee for the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night for the game against the visiting Chicago Blackhawks.
Matthews, who is tied for third on the team with 53 points, has not played since Jan. 25, when he sustained the injury in warmups before a 3-2 overtime win against the visiting New York Rangers. He still played in that contest but aggravated the ailment.
The Leafs are 2-3-0 since Matthews has been sidelined.
The Blackhawks are coming off a 4-0 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night and have dropped the first two games of a four-game trip.
Matthews skated on a line with Michael Bunting and William Nylander during practice on Tuesday.
“Everything is moving in the right direction,” Matthews said. “It’s nice to get back on the line and run through a full practice, try to get the timing back. We’ll see how everything responds (Wednesday) morning and see how I’m feeling, but I’m getting in the mindset of the anticipation of playing.”
The Maple Leafs are coming off a lethargic 4-3 home loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday, so having Matthews back would be a welcome development.
“It can’t be overstated,” Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said. “It’s significant. It changes a lot. Not just what he brings with his contributions, but also how it slots everybody else in and makes you that much deeper and much harder to defend, especially on home ice and having last change. It creates some challenges for the opposition.
“He’s a world-class player. He makes our practices better and certainly (would impact) the game that much more.”
Defenseman Justin Holl, who played poorly against Columbus, will be benched on Wednesday, and Conor Timmins will replace him.
“I’ve talked to Justin at different times,” Keefe said. “I felt his game at times has been tremendous and has helped us through some real tough times. But at times it’s also slipped. And to me the other night was one of those nights. When you’re looking to get a young guy like Timmins in, you’re looking for someone to take out, so don’t give me a reason.”
The Blackhawks allowed three third-period goals in Montreal. They had only 22 shots on Montreal goaltender Jake Allen and appeared lethargic.
“Right now, it’s hard to accept, because I haven’t seen it that much this year,” Chicago coach Luke Richardson said postgame. “I’ve been impressed with the guys’ attention to detail. Some nights, other teams just overpower us with depth, but we push usually right to the end.
“Tonight, when they’re not connected early and it doesn’t seem like it’s coming and it gets more frustrating on the bench and on the ice, it’s hard to reel it in. You can try to move guys around on their lines, just to get something sparked up, but tonight it just seemed like nothing was going to go our way.”
Blackhawks defenseman Connor Murphy said, “It’s not that we got off the game plan. We didn’t get to the game plan.”
Chicago defenseman Jarred Tinordi — making his second appearance after missing 20 games recovering from facial surgery — left the Tuesday game in the first period with a lower-body injury. He will not play at Toronto, Richardson said.
The availability of forward MacKenzie Entwistle (undisclosed) for Wednesday was uncertain after he left in the third period.
Blackhawks forward Jason Dickinson, meanwhile, briefly left with a wrist injury but later returned.
“He should be OK (Wednesday),” Richardson said.
–Field Level Media