Maple Leafs Dodge a Bullet With Auston Matthews Quick Recovery

Auston Matthews’ quick recovery is good for the Toronto Maple Leafs; but, perhaps it’s not as good for the Calgary Flames. After hitting his head during Monday night’s 4-3 overtime victory over the Carolina Hurricanes, Matthews was deemed ready to play tonight; and, unless something changes drastically, he’ll be in the lineup as the Maple Leafs meet the Flames.

Matthews Didn’t Practice on Tuesday

The fact that Matthews didn’t practice on Tuesday generated some angst among Maple Leafs’ fans after his on-ice accident. For fans who didn’t see the game on Monday evening, with very little time left in the third period and the game tied at 3-3, Matthews took a spill and his head came into contact with the knee of a Hurricanes’ player. Matthews stayed on the ice for a few minutes, was attended to by Maple Leafs’ medical staff, and finally skated off the ice – more or less – under his own power. 

Matthew went right to the Maple Leafs’ dressing room. Led by his linemate Mitch Marner, the Maple Leafs carried the play in overtime and knocked home a dirty goal in the crease to seal the win. 

Related: Maple Leafs May Have Reason to Trade Matthews After 2021-22 Season

For a couple of days after the accident, there was some concern that John Tavares would have to jump into Matthews’ spot on the first line. However, it looks as if that won’t be necessary. Matthews looks good to go.

The Team Would Have Missed the Prolific Scorer on This Road Trip

As noted, the Maple Leafs play the Flames tonight, then head into Vancouver for a game Saturday against the Canucks, and then move south to play the Kraken in Seattle. Had Matthews not been able to play, the team would have missed his recent high-volume scoring. 

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Over the past five games, Matthews has had multiple-point games in each. Over those five games, he’s scored six goals and matched that output with six assists (for 12 points). Matthews has also scored four power-play points. On the season, he’s scored 31 goals and 22 assists (for 53 points) in 40 games. 

Related: 4 Storylines to Watch for Czechia at 2022 Olympics

All those concerns aside, Matthews looks good as new. He practiced full out yesterday, taking his regular place on the first line with Marner and Michael Bunting. He also worked on the team’s first power-play unit. 

Might Matthews’ Almost-Injury Be a Wake-up Call?

I have to admit, I think Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe has grown into the job well this season and has learned from past mistakes. However, call me Mike Babcock, but I do question the amount of ice time Matthews plays game after game. That’s why I had hopes for moving William Nylander to the third line and making a more-equally-balanced trio of forward lines.

William Nylander Toronto Maple Leafs
William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Should the near-miss of a Matthews’ injury cause coach Keefe to limit Matthews’ ice time during each game? Matthews has been playing defenseman-type minutes, averaging almost 21 minutes per game on the season. Obviously, he’s a big strong guy in great shape, but those kinds of minutes might begin to take a toll over the course of the second half of the season when the team is playing a lot of games in a shorter number of days. 

Matthews Looks Ready to Easily Beat His Best Season Ever

One way or another, Matthews has been on a scalding hot streak over the last 10 games. By putting up 17 points, he’s easily on target for a career-high 100-point season this season. Surprisingly, Matthews’ highest season total to date is “only” 80 points, which he put up during the 2019-20 regular season. 

Related: 7 Cool Things About Jarome Iginla: Calgary Flames Hall of Famer

Matthews also scored his career-high 47 goals that season. He’s already scored 33 during the first half of the season. How many more are coming?