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Matthews out tonight, Thornton out a month, several lineup changes incoming

The Toronto Maple Leafs will be taking on the Edmonton Oilers in a repeat of Wednesday’s game, hoping for a different result than the 3-1 final that the last rendition ended in. They’ll have to figure that out with a different cast of players, including their biggest star, as the team confirmed a series of injuries and lineup changes this morning.

Here’s the gist of what we know, courtesy of Sheldon Keefe:

  • Auston Matthews is out for tonight with “upper body soreness”. Matthews played the entirety of Wednesday’s game, but tapped out of Thursday’s practice early. Keefe suggested that he’s not too concerned about the injury, saying that he there was a possibility that he could have played tonight but that they’d rather play it safe. I think it’s pretty likely as a result that he’ll be back by Sunday, but that’s a read-between-the-lines guess.
  • Joe Thornton fractured his rib on Wednesday, and will miss at least a month. This was yet another case of the various freak misfortunes the Leafs faced in the last game – the off-the-skate own goal, the phantom penalty that led to the GWG, the bouncing puck on Spezza’s late-game chance, and a really light hit-finish by Josh Archibald delivering a serious blow to a typically strong Jumbo Joe. A month of time lost is a really unfortunate blow to the team, especially with Nick Robertson in the same boat and unable to take advantage of the opportunity this presents in the Top 6. It’s going to be really interesting to see how the team fills this gap beyond tonight. From a cap perspective it’ll be tricky as well – typically when you lose a first line forward, you get some relief in their replacement, but not so much when the injured player makes the league minimum.

  • Alexander Barabanov, Pierre Engvall, and Adam Brooks will all play for the Leafs tonight to make up for the injured players. Barabanov played the first two games of the regular season before being swapped out for Nick Robertson, who was injured and swapped for a seventh defenceman. Engvall was sent to the Marlies at the start of training camp, but promoted to the taxi / stay ready squad this week. Brooks was a regular Marlie this year but began the year on the Taxi Squad. It’ll be the season debut for the latter pair, who are both looking to prove that they can stick around. Engvall should bring some speed to the lineup, while Brooks will lean on work ethic and hockey sense.
  • Toronto will also be switching from 11 forwards and 7 defencemen to a more traditional 12 and 6 tonight. They spent two games experimenting with the altered layout – which allowed for more creative defensive matchups and more minutes for the big forwards against the offensively deep, defensively weak Winnipeg Jets. It wasn’t as effective against the Oilers, so it makes sense to go back to the norm in a rematch. We’re going to see lots of hot-swapping of strategy like this throughout the year, so don’t be shocked if this isn’t the last time we see the 11-7 or similar attempted.


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