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Matthews practices with Maple Leafs, no timetable for return

Second-year center has missed five games because of shoulder injury

by Dave McCarthy / Correspondent

TORONTO -- Auston Matthews practiced with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday for the first time since injuring his right shoulder Feb. 22, but it remains unclear when he will return to the lineup.

The second-year center wore a red non-contact jersey and departed after about 20 minutes of the hourlong practice. He did not participate in line rushes or special-teams drills.

"I don't know what they (the medical staff) will do," Toronto coach Mike Babcock said. "I just noticed he was wearing red today; we don't have a whole lot of red in our uniform."

Matthews skated on his own prior to joining the main session Wednesday. He had been skating on his own during the past week while the Maple Leafs were on a four-game road trip. Babcock said he feels that Matthews will be closer to game shape when he is ready to return compared to his previous injuries; he missed six games from Dec. 10-23 with a concussion and four games from Nov. 8-16 with an upper-body injury.

"He's working hard on his conditioning, and the big thing about this injury, you have your legs," Babcock said Saturday before the 2018 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game against the Washington Capitals in Annapolis, Maryland. "When you come back from the previous injury, you don't have any legs because you didn't do anything, so I think jumping right in and being ready to go when it's time to come back will be positive for him. He won't have to get his conditioning back; he'll have it back already."

Video: Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews' injury update

Toronto's next game is Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Air Canada Centre (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, CBC, TVAS, SN, CITY, ATTSN-PT, NHL.TV). The Maple Leafs have a full day off Thursday and will practice Friday, when it should be clearer whether Matthews might be able to play against the Penguins.

Babcock said it was a positive step for Matthews to rejoin practice but cautioned he will not be rushed back into the lineup. Toronto (39-22-7) is third in the Atlantic Division, five points behind the second-place Boston Bruins and 14 ahead of the fourth-place Florida Panthers, who have four games in hand.

The Maple Leafs are 7-6-2 in the 15 games that Matthews has missed this season but are 1-2-2 in the five games he's missed since Feb. 22. Matthews leads the Maple Leafs with 28 goals and is second with 50 points (Mitchell Marner, 54).

"I think it's good for him mentally instead of just hanging out by yourself," Babcock said. "We were gone for 10 days and these are his buddies, so who do you hang out in Toronto with? I think the priority for him obviously is to do as much as he can each day and then when he's ready or over-ready, we'll get him back in the lineup."

Thursday will be two weeks since Matthews injured his shoulder when he was hit by New York Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech and forward Cal Clutterbuck and left the game with 1:06 remaining in the third period. He did not return for overtime or the shootout in a 4-3 victory. Matthews scored the tying goal on the shift before he was injured.

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