The Toronto Maple Leafs will look to snap their two-game losing streak against the Winnipeg Jets at Scotiabank Arena, in a key matchup between the top two teams in the North Division, but Toronto will have to do it without top scorer Auston Matthews. Matthews, who leads the NHL with 32 goals, briefly took to the ice on Thursday morning but retreated to the locker room before the morning skate.
Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe indicated that Matthews is day-to-day with an unspecified injury and will not play on Thursday, but it is something that is not expected to keep the center out too long. Keefe also said that it is not a reoccurrence of the wrist injury that saw Matthews miss some time earlier in the season, but that it was similar.
The absence saw a shuffling of the Leafs forward lines, with John Tavares moving up to the top line between Alex Galchenyuk and Mitch Marner, Alex Kerfoot moving up to the second line between Ilya Mikheyev and Zach Hyman, Joe Thornton on the third line with Pierre Engvall and Wayne Simmonds, and Adam Brooks moving into the lineup on the fourth line with rookie Nick Robertson and veteran Jason Spezza.
Robertson was cleared from the league’s COVID protocol after being placed there on Wednesday, due to the 19-year-old coming in close contact with teammates on the Toronto Marlies, who have been shut down for a week due to a player testing positive.
William Nylander has tested negative after being placed on the COVID last week and according to Keefe will be eligible to return with one more negative test.
“We’ll see how that goes, seeing where he’s at and how he’s feeling.” Keefe said. “(William) is feeling good, he’s been able to have a little bit of activity like everyone’s been doing in isolation, a bike and some weights to do what you can. Really we’re just going to see where he is when he gets on the ice and how he feels.”
Frederik Andersen (lower body) did some work with goalie coach Steve Briere before the Leafs morning skate
First time we’ve seen him on the ice since the game here March 19
Jack Campbell will make his 13th start of the season and first following a loss this season. The Jets are playing the second of back-to-back games after a 3-2 in Ottawa on Wednesday. Backup Laurent Brossoit started in the win over the Sens, which means that Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck will be between the pipes vs. Toronto.
The Leafs games on Saturday and Monday in Vancouver may be in jeopardy, since the Canucks have just returned from a lengthy hiatus after a COVID outbreak and the NHL has cancelled their game on Friday vs. Edmonton.
Leafs starter Frederik Andersen made his first public appearance on the ice since March 19 on Thursday, working with goaltending coach Steve Briere on some drills before the team practiced. Keefe said that it was not the first time that Andersen had been on the ice since re-aggravating a lower body injury and that although his being on the ice was encouraging and a sign of improvement, his return is not imminent.
The Leafs announced on Thursday the signing of winger Rodion Amirov to a three-year entry-level contract. The 19-year-old had 13 points (9 goals, 4 assists) in 39 games for Ufa Salavat Yulaev of the KHL this season and had an excellent showing for Russia in the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championships in Edmonton.
Amirov is expected to travel to North America to participate in the Marlies/Maple Leafs development program after visa and quarantine requirements are met. GM Kyle Dubas said in a press release that the 2020 first round pick will return to the KHL next season to continue his professional development.
If that is the case, the 15th overall pick’s deal will not count against the NHL’s 50 pro contract limit and the first year will slide to the 2022-23 season. According to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, Amirov’s three-year deal contains no performance bonuses.
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