Toronto Maple Leafs: Auston Matthews says he’s ready to return

TORONTO, CANADA - MARCH 07: Auston Matthews
TORONTO, CANADA - MARCH 07: Auston Matthews /

Ahead of the big game against the Nashville Predators, Auston Matthews told reporters he should be ready to return to the Toronto Maple Leafs lineup.

After a month away with a shoulder injury, Auston Matthews looks to be ready to return to the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ lineup, according to TSN’s Mark Masters.

This could not come at a better time for the Leafs and Matthews, as there are only nine games left in the season before the playoffs. Official word will come after the morning skate, but this is the first time the franchise centre has given any indication he is close to returning.

Many thought he would have made his return against the Tampa Bay Lightning after being cleared for contact, but the team pulled the plug on that. In 53 games this season, Matthews has 28 goals, 22 assists for 50 points but lately, the team has had no issue producing offence without their best player.

James van Riemsdyk now leads the team with 33 goals, after scoring seven goals in his past five games, while Mitch Marner continues to lead the team with 61 points in 73 games this season.

The big thing now is to see how the long layoff will impact Matthews’ play. While he was able to skate during rehab for his shoulder injury, the concern will be how he takes contact and the strength in his shot, which is his biggest tool.

Frederik Andersen had some shaky moments in his return to the crease against the Lightning, but it’s better that it happens in the regular season rather than in the playoffs.

Also, Nikita Zaitsev is expected to make his return from what must have been the worst illness that he could’ve picked up, as he has been out since Mar. 5. Hopefully, the time away will give him a chance for a restart as he has struggled to replicate his rookie form from last season.

After Thursday’s game against the Nashville Predators, the team only has three “tough” games on the schedule; the Florida Panthers, Winnipeg Jets and New Jersey Devils.

Those mixed in with some easier games against the Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens should give the Leafs ample opportunities to prepare for the gruelling postseason.

Next: When will the lessons start to sink in?

How excited are you to hear that Matthews will make his return? Do you expect him to have an immediate impact, or will it take time for him to get things going again? Let us know in the comments below.