Toronto Maple Leafs rookie Auston Matthews will return to his home state of Arizona when the Coyotes host the Maple Leafs on Friday.
The 19-year-old forward grew up in the Scottsdale area and Friday’s contest has significance to far more than just the players participating on the ice, as the youth hockey community and Matthews’ friends and family will be in attendance.
Auston Matthews returns home. Check out the cover of today's newspaper: pic.twitter.com/WpyjXaTHNw
— Sarah McLellan (@sarah__mclellan) December 23, 2016
The Maple Leafs will meet the Coyotes for the second time this season. During the first matchup between the clubs on Dec. 15, Matthews tallied a power-play goal but the Coyotes won 3-2 in a shootout at Air Canada Centre.
While it was Matthews’ first game against his hometown NHL team and one of his childhood idols, Shane Doan, tonight’s contest takes on a whole new meaning at Gila River Arena.
After the game is over, Matthews and Coyotes forward Max Domi are expected to pose for a picture on the ice with 500 local youth hockey players — a special moment for kids aspiring to follow in their footsteps.
Adding to the fanfare surrounding the game is the that Doan will become just the sixth player in NHL history to play at least 1,500 games with one team — a list topped by hockey legend Gordie Howe, who suited up in 1,687 games with the Detroit Red Wings.
Matthews enters the game tied for fifth in the league with 16 goals and his 25 points are second behind Winnipeg Jets forward Patrik Laine (30) for the lead among all rookies.
Mike Babcock will give Auston Matthews the opening faceoff tonight in Arizona.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) December 23, 2016
The team will also be a special moment for Matthews’ parents, Ema and Brian, his grandparents and the rest of his family in attendance. The first overall pick in this past summer’s draft spoke about it on Friday.
“I’m sure it’ll be pretty emotional for them,” said Matthews, according to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston. “They’ve been to Toronto a few times for games — my Dad’s up there quite a bit — but I’m sure this one will have some very special meanings to them. For my grandparents as well, this will be the first time they’ll watch me play in the NHL.
“So it’ll be pretty great.”
Oilers’ Pitlick Out for Season
Edmonton Oilers forward Tyler Pitlick will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL in his left knee, the team announced on Friday.
"It's a huge blow. We lost a key player… He got the opportunity here & we feel his pain." Coach McLellan on @Pitty687's injury
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) December 23, 2016
Pitlick suffered the injury during the Oilers’ 3-2 overtime victory over the St. Louis Blues.
It’s disappointing news for the Oilers and for the 25-year-old who’s battled injuries over the past two seasons. He suffered a lacerated spleen during the 2014-15 season and was limited to just 37 games with the American Hockey League’s Bakersfield Condors in 2015-16.
Pitlick had already set NHL career-highs across the board with eight goals and three assists in 31 games in 2016-17.
Red Wings’ Howard Out 4-6 Weeks
The Detroit Red Wings will be without goaltender Jimmy Howard for four to six weeks with a sprained knee, general manager Ken Holland told MLive.com’s Brendan Savage.
Howard suffered the injury during the team’s 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday. Howard writhed in pain his’ crease after a collision involving him, Red Wings defenseman Nick Jensen and Lightning forward Erik Condra.
The news is a major blow for a Red Wings team that’s currently 14-15-4 and in seventh place in the Atlantic Division. Howard and Petr Mrazek have split all but one of the starts for the Red Wings during the early part of the season.
In 17 games of action, Howard has compiled a 5-7-1 record with a 1.96 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage. Mrazek has seen time in 20 contests and is 9-7-3 with 3.06 goals-against average and a .889 save percentage.
With Howard on the injured reserve for the next month to month and a half, the Red Wings have recalled goaltender Jared Coreau from the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins. The 25-year-old netminder has just one game of NHL experience which came in a 5-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Dec. 3.
Odds and Ends
— Team Russia announced its final roster for the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship set to begin with games in Montreal and Toronto on Dec. 26. New York Rangers prospect Sergey Zborovskiy was named to the 23-man roster. The 19-year-old defenseman is currently playing with the Regina Pats in the Western Hockey League and is sixth in scoring among all blueliners with 26 points and leads the league with a plus-51 rating through 28 games.
— Russian Prospects (@RUSProspects) December 23, 2016
— The Columbus Blue Jackets signed forward Vitaly Abramov to a three-year, entry-level contract, the team announced on Friday. The 18-year-old right winger was selected by Columbus 65th overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) December 23, 2016
— The Blue Jackets are on a 11-game winning streak and it’s clear people in the region are interested in all the success. The team’s convincing 7-1 victory of the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday was the most watched Blue Jackets game on TV in seven years, according to Fox Sports Ohio. The game drew a 4.1 rating, which was the largest since the team drew a 4.64 rating as they defeated the Chicago Blackhawks to earn the first playoff berth in franchise history on April 8, 2009.
— The Carolina Hurricanes will host the Detroit Red Wings on March 27, 2017 to makeup the game that was postponed on Dec. 19 after an issue with the ice cooling system at PNC Arena.
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) December 23, 2016
Steven is a lawyer and writer with a passion for the game of hockey. He’s the Lead Writer covering the Tampa Bay Lightning with THW. He’s also been press credentialed through the Lightning since 2016. His work has been published at The Fourth Period, LightningInsider.com, Bolt Prospects, The Sports Daily Network, U.S. College Hockey Online and College Hockey News. He’s had radio appearances on TSN 690 in Montreal, Lightning Power Play Live and multiple podcasts to give insight and analysis on the team. He can be reached on Twitter @StevenDiOssi and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.