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Maple Leafs’ Matthews Skates with Projected First Line at Practice

Maple Leafs’ Matthews Skates with Projected First Line at Practice

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews skated with forwards Mitch Marner and newcomer Nick Ritchie at practice on Thursday, setting up a preview of the team’s potential first line when the team opens the regular season in October.

Matthews skated with his teammates for the first time on Tuesday. He underwent surgery last month on a wrist injury that nagged him for much of the 2020-21 season. On Thursday, the team conducted line rushes with Matthews for the first time.

“(He’s) just continuing along in his progressions, but the fact that we’ve seen him out every single day with no setbacks is a very good thing,” Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said of Matthews.

It’s not clear if Matthews will be in the lineup for the Maple Leafs when they take on the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 13. He has yet to take part in contact drills at practice.

Throughout training camp, Adam Brooks served as a place-holder for Matthews as the center on the line until Matthews stepped back in on Thursday. 

“It’s going to be a lot better when Auston’s in that spot instead of me,” Brooks said with a smile.

With Matthews present, assistant coach Spencer Carbery worked with the Leafs’ core four forwards consisting of Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander for some power-play work along with defenseman Morgan Rielly.

The five skaters spent time together on the power play last season, most notably in 5-on-3 situations. In charge of power-play duties this season, Carbery has Marner in the bumper position with Nylander and Matthews on the wing and Tavares at the net.

“I think he just wants to try to use all of our collective abilities as best as we can,” Tavares said of Carbery. “I think we want to have the flexibility to adapt to penalty kills as penalty kills adapt to us.”

Last season, Toronto’s power play got off to a red-hot start but fizzled down the stretch. The issues continued in the playoffs where they went just 3-of-23 (13 percent).

With Marner in the bumper spot for the first time in his NHL career, he’s been watching video of Brayden Point and how he handles the position with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The idea with Marner in the middle is that his playmaking ability can be spread across the ice.

‘It will hopefully bring guys toward me and leave seems open and, for penalty kill purposes, make it harder that kind of kill against us and not know who to take,” Marner said. “We’ll see though, we’ll have to go on feel. I think a great thing is just using our creativity out there.”

The power play will get a lot of practice on Friday when the team hosts an intrasquad game at Scotiabank Arena. They will spend the entire third period working on special teams. Each side will have five power-play opportunities. 

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