Morgan Rielly

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Is Babcock holding the Maple Leafs back?

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The Toronto Maple Leafs might not be a perfect team, but on paper, you wouldn’t expect them to go through many scoring droughts.

It’s not just Auston Matthews, and really, it’s not just sophomores Mitch Marner and William Nylander that makes this seem so dangerous. Toronto also has solid supporting scorers in the likes of James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri. They added some veteran savvy to the mix with Patrick Marleau, too.

Even so, frustration is building. In the last six games, they’ve only managed 12 goals (not counting shootouts). The Maple Leafs have lost six of their last eight games and haven’t won in regulation since Dec. 28.

Dry spells are going to come, but the heat is starting to rise on Mike Babcock’s lineup decisions.

Not that he’s flustered by such criticisms, as TSN’s Kristen Shilton reports.

“This is how I kind of look at it: I think they hired me to decide,” Babcock said on Wednesday. “So that’s kind of how I approach it … I’m just going to keep on keeping on. In your lifetime, you get to decide what you react to.”

This video has more from Babcock, including the veteran coach calling for the Maple Leafs to shoot more rather than trying to make the perfect play. It’s a nice supplement to more granular studies, like TSN’s Travis Yost’s deep dive on the Maple Leafs and icing (the unsavory infraction, not delicious frosting).

In the grand scheme of things, Babs should be commended for how he’s embraced this team’s young core, particularly in quickly acknowledging that Auston Matthews can do heavy lifting as far as deployment goes.

Still, people are getting frustrated with certain usage situations.

ESPN’s split stats allow you an opportunity to see who’s being used most often in January, this stretch in which Toronto’s scoring is really drying up.

Maybe you’d want Babcock to lean even more on Matthews (averaging 18:54 TOI this month, 18:38 on the season), but that’s a smaller quibble. People are most bothered by the reemergence of Roman Polak (17:02 per game in January) and Leo Komarov‘s frequent use (about a shift fewer than Matthews per game at 18:24 per night in January).

Komarov is getting two more minutes per game lately than Mitch Marner (16:16) and JVR (16:01). Combine that with low scoring, and yes, people are going to get frustrated.

With these developments in mind, the irritation is rising, as you can see in Ryan Fancey of Leafs Nation’s column: “The Leafs aren’t just boring, they’re mediocre.”

Toronto has stopped scoring, and their overall attack has been neutered for weeks. And what’s worse, it seems intentional. Every Babcock quote over the last couple months seems to be about “playing tight” and being more defensive, which apparently means sitting back and being fed in your own zone before ripping the puck up ice for a stretch pass (a.k.a Carlyle hockey) or getting it to the red and going for a dump-and-chase. The Leafs can’t seem to get any flow to their play when it comes to breaking out or using the neutral zone to create offense, and it’s concerning because it seems like a step back from last year. What’s even worse is that it’s so, so boring.

It’s that “intentional” part that’s interesting.

This ultimately comes down to a fascinating conundrum. The Leafs have some nice defensemen, but could use help in that area and probably lack a truly elite one, though Morgan Rielly is coming along nicely. There are some forwards with two-way ability, but no one demanding Selke bids, either.

Babcock’s goal is to get the most out of that group, so does that mean going for a high-stakes style like that of, say, the Penguins or Devils? Maybe that was the leaning for a bit, yet the charge now is that the Maple Leafs are trying to lower the number of events in their own end, which means playing a more conservative style overall.

With a reasonably comfortable grip on third place in the Atlantic Division, maybe Babcock is merely using this window to experiment? The ideal scenario could be to find the right mix of careful play and daring offense.

At least, that’s what would happen if things fall the right way.

Can Babcock figure this out – as he’s figured out many different alignments during his impressive career – or is this a case of ego and/or stubbornness lowering a team’s ceiling? There’s still time to figure this out, but it’s an interesting story to watch.

Even if the team itself isn’t always as fun as it once was.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Lightning lose Victor Hedman for 3-6 weeks

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The Tampa Bay Lightning lost Victor Hedman to a lower body injury on Thursday night and it did not look great when he left the ice.

On Friday, the team announced their star defenseman will be sidelined for the next three-to-six weeks with the injury.

That is certainly not ideal, but given how it looked when Hedman left the ice it could have been significantly worse.

The injury will force Hedman to miss the All-Star game in Tampa Bay later this month. It is possible he could be replaced by one of his teammates, Mikhail Sergachev, and keep four Lightning players on the roster.

Morgan Rielly (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Charlie McAvoy (Boston Bruins) could also be candidates to replace him.

Here is a look at the play.

Hedman is having a magnificent season for the Lightning and is once again one of the best all-around defensemen in the NHL. In 44 games he has six goals to go with 27 assists and is playing a career-high 25 minutes per game. He finished in third place in the Norris Trophy voting a season ago behind Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson and was on track to be a strong contender for the award once again this season.

After being decimated by injuries a year ago the Lightning have been one of the healthiest teams in the league this season until Hedman’s injury. Even after Thursday’s loss to Calgary the Lightning have the best record in the NHL with a 31-10-3 mark.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL reveals 2018 All-Star Game rosters; who missed out?

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The NHL revealed on Wednesday the full rosters for the 2018 NHL All-Star Game, which will take place Jan. 27-28 at Amalie Arena in Tampa.

It will be the second time the city has hosted the event and first time under the 3-on-3 tournament format. Last week, the league announced the four division captains who will represent the Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central and Pacific Divisions and be in charge of filling out the participants in the Skills Competition.

[Pass or Fail: 2018 NHL All-Star Game jerseys]

Here’s who will will be joining Steven Stamkos, Alex Ovechkin, P.K. Subban and Connor McDavid in sunny Tampa, Florida. Keep in mind that you can be sure there will be some injury replacements between now and All-Star Weekend.

ATLANTIC DIVISION
Head coach: Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning
F Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning (C)
F Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
F Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
F Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers
F Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins
F Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
D Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
D Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators
D Mike Green, Detroit Red Wings
G Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
G Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens

• You knew this team was going to be stacked with some host city boys, and four Lightning players plus the head coach will dominate the love of the Amalie Arena crowd. There’s also a 100 percent chance that Stamkos, Kucherov, Hedman and Vasilevskiy will start the first semifinal.

Potential injury replacements: Patrice Bergeron, Mark Stone, Morgan Rielly, Mikhail Sergachev, Charlie McAvoy, Frederik Andersen, Tuukka Rask

METROPOLITAN DIVISION
Head coach: Barry Trotz, Washington Capitals
F Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals (C)
F Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils
F Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
F Josh Bailey, New York Islanders
F John Tavares, New York Islanders
F Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
D Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets
D Noah Hanifin, Carolina Hurricanes
D Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins
G Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
G Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals

• So much for Crosby saying he’s not having an All-Star season. Should he end up going, it will be only the Penguins captain’s third appearance in the event. Good to see the Islanders finally having someone for Tavares to tag along with during All-Star Weekend.

Potential injury replacements: Anders Lee, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Phil Kessel, John Carlson, Shayne Gostisbehere, Sergei Bobrovsky, Cory Schneider

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CENTRAL DIVISION
Head coach: Peter Laviolette, Nashville Predators
F Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
F Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
F Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets
F Brayden Schenn, St. Louis Blues
F Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild
F Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars
D P.K. Subban, Nashville Predators (C)
D Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues
D John Klingberg, Dallas Stars
G Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
G Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets

• Great to see Schenn rep the Blues with the season he’s having. Also great to see Staal in an All-Star Game for the first time since 2011 when he captained Team Staal in Carolina.

Potential injury replacements: Vladimir Tarasenko,  Jamie Benn, Patrik Laine, Ryan Suter, Roman Josi, Ben Bishop, Corey Crawford (if healthy by then)

PACIFC DIVISION
Head coach: Gerard Gallant, Vegas Golden Knights
F Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers (C)
F Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
F Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks
F James Neal, Vegas Golden Knights
F Rickard Rakell, Anaheim Ducks
F Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
D Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
D Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks
D Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes
G Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
G Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights

• Really surprised by the two Vegas picks. Only Boeser has has many goals among Pacific Division players as William Karlsson (22). Then you have Jonathan Marchessault, who’s tied for fourth-best in the division with Boeser in points (40).

Potential injury replacements: Marchessault, Karlsson, Sean Monahan, Mark Giordano, Jake MuzzinMike Smith, John Gibson

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy

NHL All-Star Game: PHT picks the rosters

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The 2018 NHL All-Star rosters will be revealed on Wednesday. Last week, the league announced that Steven Stamkos, Alex Ovechkin, P.K. Subban and Connor McDavid will captain their respective divisions during the 3-on-3 tournament later this month at Amalie Arena in Tampa.

While we wait and see who will be enjoying a sunny, warm weekend in late January, we here at PHT have picked our own All-Star rosters. Keep in mind, of course, that the NHL likes to have every team represented, so there are going to be some pretty decent snubs on these rosters while picking six forwards, three defensemen and two goalie for every division.

SEAN LEAHY

ATLANTIC
F Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
F Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
F Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins
F Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers
F Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
F Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
D Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators
D Mike Green, Detroit Red Wings
D Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
G Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
G Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens

Toughest snubs: David Pastrnak, Frederik Andersen

METROPOLITAN
F Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
F Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
F Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins
F John Tavares, New York Islanders
F Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils
F Anders Lee, New York Islanders
D Shayne Gostisbehere, Philadelphia Flyers
D Noah Hanifin, Carolina Hurricanes
D John Carlson, Washington Capitals
G Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
G Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets

Toughest snubs: Josh Bailey, Sean Couturier

CENTRAL
F Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets
F Brayden Schenn, St. Louis Blues
F Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild
F Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
F Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars
F Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
D P.K. Subban, Nashville Predators
D John Klingberg, Dallas Stars
D Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues
G Connor Hellebuyuck, Winnipeg Jets
G Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

Toughest snubs: Jamie Benn, Roman Josi

PACIFIC
F Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
F Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
F Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
F Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks
F Jonathan Marchessault, Vegas Golden Knights
F William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights
D Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
D Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks
D Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes
G Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
G John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks

Toughest snubs: Dustin Brown, Clayton Keller

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JAMES O’BRIEN

ATLANTIC
F Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
F Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
F Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
F Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
F Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers
F Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins
D Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
D Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators
D Mike Green, Detroit Red Wings
G Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
G Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens

Toughest snubs: Patrice Bergeron, Mark Stone, Charlie McAvoy, Morgan Rielly, Tuukka Rask, Frederik Andersen

METROPOLITAN
F Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
F Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
F Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils
F John Tavares, New York Islanders
F Josh Bailey, New York Islanders
F Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins
D John Carlson, Washington Capitals
D Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets
D Noah Hanifin, Carolina Hurricanes
G Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets
G Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

Toughest snubs: Sidney Crosby, Jakub Voracek, Jaccob Slavin, Zach Werenski, Braden Holtby, Cory Schneider

CENTRAL
F Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
F Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets
F Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues
F Brayden Schenn, St. Louis Blues
F Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars
F Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild
D P.K. Subban, Nashville Predators
D John Klingberg, Dallas Stars
D Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues
G Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
G Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks

Toughest snubs: Patrick Kane, Jamie Benn, Tyson Barrie, Ryan Suter, Pekka Rinne

PACIFIC
F Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
F Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks
F Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
F Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
F Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes
F Jonathan Marchessault, Vegas Golden Knights
D Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks
D Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
D Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames
G Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
G John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks

Toughest snubs: William Karlsson, Sean Monahan, Jake Muzzin, Mike Smith

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SCOTT BILLECK

ATLANTIC
F Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
F Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
F Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
F Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
F Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers
F Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings
D Shea Weber, Montreal Canadiens
D Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
D Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators
G Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
G Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

Toughest snubs: Brad Marchand, Mark Stone, Charlie McAvoy, Morgan Rielly

METROPOLITAN
F Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
F Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
F Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
F Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils
F John Tavares, New York Islanders
F Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes
D John Carlson, Washington Capitals
D Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets
D Shayne Gostisbehere, Philadelphia Flyers
G Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets
G Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

Toughest snubs: Phil Kessel, Josh Bailey, Jaccob Slavin, Zach Werenski, Braden Holtby, Cory Schneider

CENTRAL
F Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
F Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets
F Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets
F Brayden Schenn, St. Louis Blues
F Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars
F Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild
D P.K. Subban, Nashville Predators
D John Klingberg, Dallas Stars
D Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues
G Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
G Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks

Toughest snubs: Patrick Kane, Vladimir Tarasenko, Patrik Laine, Ryan Suter, Pekka Rinne

PACIFIC
F Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
F Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks
F Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
F Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
F Rickard Rakell, Anaheim Ducks
F Jonathan Marchessault, Vegas Golden Knights
D Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks
D Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
D Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes
G Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
G Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights

Toughest snubs: Clayton Keller, William Karlsson, Josh Manson, Mike Smith, John Gibson

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JOEY ALFIERI

ATLANTIC
F Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
F Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
F Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins
F Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
F Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers
F Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
D Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators
D Shea Weber, Montreal Canadiens
D Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
G Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
G Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

Toughest snubs: Mark Stone, Evander Kane, Jonathan Huberdeau, David Pastrnak, Morgan Rielly

METROPOLITAN
F Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
F Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
F John Tavares, New York Islanders
F Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils
F Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
F Josh Bailey, New York Islanders
D John Carlson, Washington Capitals
D Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets
D Noah Hanifin, Carolina Hurricanes
G Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
G Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets

Toughest snubs: Jakub Voracek, Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin, Braden Holtby

CENTRAL
F Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
F Brayden Schenn, St. Louis Blues
F Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars
F Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets
F Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
F Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild
D P.K. Subban, Nashville Predators
D John Klingberg, Dallas Stars
D Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues
G Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks
G Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets

Toughest snubs: Vladimir Tarasenko, Mikko Rantanen, Jamie Benn, Pekka Rinne

PACIFIC
F Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
F Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
F Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
F Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks
F Jonathan Marchessault, Vegas Golden Knights
F Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks
D Drew Droughty, Los Angeles Kings
D Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes
D Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks
G Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
G Mike Smith, Calgary Flames

Toughest snubs: Sean Monahan, William Karlsson, Jake Muzzin

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ADAM GRETZ

ATLANTIC
F Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
F Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
F Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins
F Mark Stone, Ottawa Senators
F Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
F Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers
D Mike Green, Detroit Red Wings
D Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators
D Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
G Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lighting
G Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

Toughest snubs: Patrice Bergeron, Jack Eichel

METROPOLITAN
F Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
F John Tavares, New York Islanders
F Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
F Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins
F Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils
F Josh Bailey, New York Islanders
D John Carlson, Washington Capitals
D Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets
D Shayne Gostisbehere, Philadelphia Flyers
G Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets
G Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

Toughest snubs: Jakub Voracek, Sidney Crosby

CENTRAL
F Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
F Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues
F Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars
F Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets
F Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
F Brayden Schenn, St. Louis Blues
D P.K. Subban, Nashville Predators
D John Klingberg, Dallas Stars
D Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild
G Connor Hellebucyk, Winnipeg Jets
G Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

Toughest snubs: Jamie Benn, Patrik Laine

PACIFIC
F Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
F Johnny Gaudreau, Clgary Flames
F Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks
F Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
F Jonathan Marchessault, Vegas Golden Knights
F Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes
D Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks
D Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
D Josh Manson, Anaheim Ducks
G Jonathan Quick, Los Angles Kings
G John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks

Toughest snubs: William Karlsson, Logan Couture

Auston Matthews admits experiencing concussion symptoms; could return vs. Rangers

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We now know what the “upper-body injury” was that’s caused Auston Matthews of the the Toronto Maple Leafs to miss the last six games.

After returning to full practice on his teammates Friday morning, Matthews said he was experiencing “normal concussion symptoms” after a collision with Morgan Rielly during a Dec. 9 game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. It wasn’t until later that night into the next morning that the Maple Leafs star began feeling off and eventually went through the standard protocol.

Matthews skated on his own last week and will travel with the team to New York City ahead of their Saturday night game against the Rangers. He’s currently listed as a game-time decision.

“I think it’s just talking with the training staff. No decision is going to be made until tomorrow but I’m definitely feeling a lot better,” he said. “I feel good out there on the ice. Obviously, just trying to get my legs back and everything.”

The Leafs have missed Matthews, who has 13 goals and 26 points in 26 games played this season, as they’ve dropped three of four games in his absence.

If Matthews doesn’t go Saturday night, he’ll get a few extra days to get 100-percent before a homecoming when the Leafs head west to face the Arizona Coyotes on Dec. 28, their first game after the Christmas break.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.