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Matthews out for Maple Leafs-Oilers tilt, fractured rib sidelines Thornton

Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Edmonton Oilers at Scotiabank Arena on January 20, 2021 in Toronto.
Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Edmonton Oilers at Scotiabank Arena on January 20, 2021 in Toronto.

The Maple Leafs’ lineup will be knocked down a size for the next month.

And for at least one game, the Leafs will have to get by without centre Auston Matthews.

Matthews is dealing with upper-body soreness and will not play on Friday night against the Edmonton Oilers at Scotiabank Arena.

“I’m not too concerned,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said Friday morning. “There was a possibility he would play today, but it wasn’t feeling right in that sense today so we’re going to give a little more time.”

Jumbo Joe Thornton, meanwhile, will be out a minimum of four weeks, Keefe said, after the 41-year-old forward suffered a fractured rib against the Oilers on Wednesday. Thornton departed the game early in the third period after he took a light hit from Oilers forward Josh Archibald along the side boards.

“Certainly for games it will (be quieter in the room without Thornton), but for practices he will be around, he was in here this morning, he was in here yesterday,” Keefe said. “His presence will be felt in that way for sure. His presence and voice is a big reason we brought him here, but we will still get some of those benefits with the life and the energy and the smile he brings to the room and the rink every day.”

With Thornton and Matthews out, forwards Pierre Engvall, Alex Barabanov and Adam Brooks will be inserted into the lineup. Keefe had gone with 11 forwards and seven defencemen in the past two games, but said regardless of the injuries, had made the decision to revert to the more common lineup of 12 forwards and six defencemen.

It was not clear which defenceman will be sitting. Mikko Lehtonen started each of the past two games as the seventh D-man.

Keefe wouldn’t give any hints as to how his lines will be set, but did say William Nylander will not be playing centre.

The greater issue for Keefe is his team’s lack of goals at five-on-five. The Leafs (3-2-0) were structured well defensively in a 3-1 loss to the Oilers (2-3-0) on Wednesday, limiting Connor McDavid to an assist, but had little in the way of pressure on Edmonton goalie Mikko Koskinen while the teams were playing even. And that won’t get much easier with Matthews and Thornton, two-thirds of the top line with Mitch Marner, in spectator roles.

“No matter who is in the lineup, what the lines are, we have to find a way to get to the net a lot more,” Keefe said. “It has been an issue for us, not just in the last game — certainly the last game highlighted it a lot because we did not get the power-play goal to supplement our offence.

“We have to find ways to get to the net more consistently. JT (John Tavares), Will (Nylander), Mitch, Hymes (Zach Hyman), all these guys, but all the way through the lineup — (Jimmy) Vesey, (Ilya) Mikheyev, all these guys have to do a better job of helping us get there, (Alex) Kerfoot.”

Tavares concurred.

“The other night was a tight game and both teams were well-prepared,” the Leafs captain said. “We want to find ways to be a little cleaner through the neutral zone and get on their forecheck and find ways to get inside and make it tough on them and their goaltender.

“Everyone has to find ways to elevate. You can’t replace anyone in the lineup. I think everyone brings their own skill set. We have to find another level and make as big as an impact as you can.”

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