Here we go again.
A hard hit, a grimacing Auston Matthews and a lengthy spell without one of the best players in the game.
For the second time inside a calendar year, a bone-crushing hit from an opponent will see the Toronto Maple Leafs superstar miss an extended period of time with a shoulder injury. The Maple Leafs announced on Monday that Matthews, the team’s leading scorer with 10 goals and 16 points, will miss a minimum of four weeks.
Matthews was walloped by Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba on Saturday night. The clean hit sent Matthews immediately to Toronto’s bench and shortly after that, right down the tunnel. He was not seen again on the ice and is now on injured reserve.
“It’s frustrating,” Matthews told reporters in Toronto on Monday. “There’s not much you can do. It sucks. It’s part of the game. I’m going to work as hard as I can to get back as soon as possible and feeling back to myself.”
Matthews said the injury is similar to the injury suffered to his right shoulder last season, only this time it’s happened to his left shoulder. He said he doesn’t need surgery.
The first shoulder injury cost him four weeks and 10 missed games.
Back in February, Matthews was caught between a rock and a hard place when two New York Islanders converged on him. The sandwiching hit knocked him out of the game that night as well.
The Leafs play 15 times over the next four weeks, so the impact of Matthews’ latest ailment is well-pronounced.
He’s been one of the best players in the NHL to start the season and a big reason why the Leafs have marched out to an 8-3-0 record.
The silver lining? Toronto faired reasonably well without Matthews during that 10-game chunk last season, going 5-3-2. And that was when they didn’t have the refuge of John Tavares in the lineup.
Every single Maple Leafs player will tell you that you don’t replace a talent like Matthews, and that is 100 percent accurate.
The Leafs looked better equipped this time to do so this time around. You only have to look at Saturday’s game after Matthews was hit for some proof. Down 2-0 to the Jets, Toronto engineered a third-period comeback with three unanswered goals to take the game 3-2.
That said, Toronto’s depth is about to get tested.
The other worry here is Matthews’ proneness to injuries over the past two seasons. He played the full 82-game schedule during his rookie year but was limited to 62 games last season.
Injuries now to both shoulders, his back and a concussion have sidelined Matthews inside the past year. The Leafs were 11-7-2 during those times without the 21-year-old.
His, shoulders, specifically, have been a source of concern dating back before he entered the NHL.
And what becomes of the William Nylander talks now? Perhaps a little more leverage for the Swede?
Nylander still remains unsigned by the club, who could now use his scoring prowess. It’s unlikely the Leafs cave to his demands, but it has to be a little more appealing given the current circumstances.
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Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck