The decision has been made, and the Toronto Maple Leafs will get one of their superstars back tonight. Head coach Mike Babcock confirmed this morning that Auston Matthews will return to the lineup against the San Jose Sharks after a four-week absence. Matthews will have to be activated from injured reserve, but the Maple Leafs were already operating with a 22-man roster and have room to fit him in.
Matthews, 21, was off to an incredible start to the season with 10 goals in his first 11 games before being injured by a hard check from Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba. Suffering a shoulder injury on the play, he’s been out since October 27th leaving the Maple Leafs’ offensive attack in the hands of John Tavares and Mitch Marner. That pair has done just fine alongside contributions from others like Kasperi Kapanen and Nazem Kadri, leading the Maple Leafs to a 9-5 record without Matthews in the lineup.
Still, getting back a player of Matthews’ caliber can only help Toronto as they try to catch the suddenly exceptional Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres are on a 10-game win streak and have taken over first place in the entire NHL. The Maple Leafs are just two points behind them, but it’s clear that the Atlantic Division is setting up to be a meat grinder for the entire season and could force a legitimate Stanley Cup contender into a wild card position. Getting Matthews back and healthy will go a long way to helping Toronto secure one of those top three spots.