Toronto Maple Leafs: Life without Auston Matthews has been tough

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 10: Auston Matthews
TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 10: Auston Matthews /

The Toronto Maple Leafs have struggled without Auston Matthews in the lineup and it does not look like anything is going to change that right now.

To think that it has only been four games that Auston Matthews has missed with his shoulder injury. Let’s just say it has been tough go for the Toronto Maple Leafs since then.

Since Matthews injury the team has gone 1-1-2, allowing the Boston Bruins to pad their lead in the Atlantic Division with three points on Toronto with four games in hand.

The latest update according to the Associated Press was that the 20-year-old resumed skating and if all goes well, he could make it back ahead of a crucial game on Mar. 10 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Against the Washington Capitals, the Maple Leafs played their worst hockey in over a month. They were sloppy, passive, and looked lost. Some of that can be attributed to the new environment, the ice conditions and the lack of practice, but those are minor excuses.

Without their leading goal-scorer jumping over the boards, the team loses a big part of their identity. His size and strength allows him to lead a dominant cycle game and when necessary, he can change the tone in an instant.

Even at a young age, Matthews is no doubt the leader of this team and despite a not so terrible record with him out of the lineup (7-4-2), there is a clear void.

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Okay, well that wasn’t difficult to say. It is no different than the Edmonton Oilers struggling without Connor McDavid, or the Washington Capitals relying on Alexander Ovechkin and the Montreal Canadiens needing Carey Price.

Matthews is the type of player that makes his presence known at both ends of the ice.

From what we know, Matthews is not a very vocal guy in the locker room; he leads by example. Whether it’s making a strong defensive play away from the puck or strategically stick lifting an opponent without drawing a penalty, it is the little things that have made the former first overall pick a franchise player.

Tomas Plekanec was a strong pickup for the Leafs, but having him replace Matthews’ put a lot of pressure on both William Nylander and Zach Hyman to fill the offensive void. There was a noticeable difference when Mitch Marner was on that line. However, Mike Babcock wanted a defensive minded player down the middle for the road matchups.

The other impact has been the extra burden put on Nazem Kadri and his linemates as they have to constantly face off against the opposition’s best line. Babcock had the ability to put Matthews against the top lines, which opened things up for Kadri’s line offensively.

Both the third and fourth lines are relatively unaffected, as they still see similar deployment but they have struggled to fill the void, especially on the offensive side. In the four games without Matthews, the third line has only combined for two goals. That isn’t going to cut it.

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Hopefully Matthews makes his return sooner rather than later, as long as there is no serious risk of re-injuring his shoulder.