TORONTO – Auston Matthews said he felt like he was getting back in shape for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The center said the biggest effect of the positive test on him was forcing him to stay off the ice for 2-3 weeks while at his offseason home in Arizona, where he was. surrendered after the NHL suspended the season on March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. But after training camp, which included a five-game intrasquad scrimmage streak to prepare for the Stanley Cup qualifiers, Matthews looks like the player who has led Toronto in goals (47) and points (80) this season.
“I saw a progression. I saw him with his conditioning and his ability to hold his game longer, ”said coach Sheldon Keefe. “He was really good. Lots of things I was hoping to see from him in this camp I saw. That’s the least of my concerns at this point. ”
The Maple Leafs (36-25-9, .579 percentage points) are the No.8 seed in the Eastern Conference and will face No.9 seed Columbus Blue Jackets (33-22-15, .579) in one of 5 qualifying rounds, which begins August 2 at the Scotiabank Arena. The winner will advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the loser will have a chance to be the first pick in the 2020 NHL Draft in Round 2 of the NHL Draft Lottery, scheduled for August 10.
Toronto to play an exhibition game against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVAS).
Video: TBL @ TOR: Marner prepares for Matthews’ power play explosion
At the start of the scrimmage series, Matthews said he didn’t get into a position to use his shot as often as he would like, but felt like he was starting to end up in the goal zones more often in the last two games.
“I think I pulled a little more on the puck over the last two scrum and created a little more, so I think that’s a good sign,” said Matthews. “I just want to keep improving here in a positive way and get my game back as quickly as possible. ”
Although Matthews didn’t score as much early in the scrimmage, Keefe was impressed with the way he controlled and forced the turnovers.
“He didn’t shoot the puck much,” Keefe said. “But he made a ton of plays and he got the puck with his skills and his body.”
Keefe shuffled the teams for the final scrum, culminating in Matthews and his line-mates, right winger William Nylander and the left wing Zach Hyman, being paired against a line with the left wing Ilya Mikheyev, centre John Tavares and the right wing Mitchell Marner.
“It helps a lot to go up against these guys,” Matthews said. “There are three elite players on this line. They are a big part of our team as well as our line. It’s always good when you go head-to-head and go head-to-head. the best of each person and we will need them in the coming weeks. ”