Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews did not practice on Monday after a rapid COVID-19 test conducted in the morning yielded a positive test result.
“We’ll just await the results from their PCR (test) that won’t come in until tomorrow morning,” Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said following practice. “There have been some instances where those rapid positives have been false.”
Assistant coach Dean Chynoweth also missed practice for the same reason as Matthews. Both have not exhibited any symptoms of COVID-19, according to Keefe.
Matthews was riding a ten-game point streak (13 goals and five assists) before the Leafs were forced to put a pause on their season due to a COVID-19 outbreak. The point streak was snapped in the team’s return to the ice on Saturday in a 6-0 win against the Ottawa Senators.
Matthews was named the NHL’s first star of the month for December after scoring ten goals and four assists in seven games.
Without their star at practice, the Leafs adjusted their forwards at the top-six. John Tavares took Matthews’ place on the first line with wingers Michael Bunting and Mitch Marner. Alex Kerfoot moved over from the wing to the center spot on the second line with Ilya Mikheyev moving from the third line to the second-line wing.
“We may make some adjustments for tomorrow or later in the week , but obviously Kerfoot has shown the ability to play center and do a good job for us throughout the season,” Keefe said. “It keeps him with Willy (William Nylander), we’ll look at it because I have liked John (Tavares) with those two guys as well.”
Keefe has made it no secret that the team is trying to give Mikheyev an elevated role this season. The Russian reportedly requested a trade to another team last summer that was subsequently denied by Toronto. It appeared as though Mikheyev was set to start the season on the second line with Tavares and Nylander when he broke his hand during the team’s final exhibition game and was forced to miss the first two months of the season.
In his season debut against the Edmonton Oilers on Dec. 14, Mikheyev was slotted back into the third line, but the club also put him on the flank of the second power-play unit in an effort to give him chances to contribute offensively.
On Saturday, Mikheyev scored a shorthanded goal and power-play goal in their win against the Senators, his first multi-goal game in the NHL.
“I’m happy I have [an] opportunity to play on the power play,” Mikheyev said after the game. “Of course, everybody wants to play on [the] power play because it’s a different game, you can build confidence [in] yourself. It’s good.”
Liljegren returns from COVID-19 protocol
Maple Leafs defenseman Timothy Liljegren returned to practice after missing the last five days due to the COVID-19 protocol. Due to the timing of his diagnosis, Liljegren had to miss the team’s first game after the break.
“After we went back to the ice after that break I thought I was in the clear,” Liljegren said.
The rookie defenseman was asymptomatic throughout his time in protocol. He did some yoga and some other physical activities but admitted it wasn’t a substitute for skating.
At practice, he was on the outside looking in, skating on the four defensive pair with Alex Biega.
Muzzin back in the mix
Although he exited COVID-19 protocol on Friday, Jake Muzzin was held of the Leafs’ first game back on Saturday.
The defenseman admitted both he and the team were being cautious and that he’d be ready to go on Wednesday.
“I should be ready to go here shortly,” Muzzin said. “No ill effects.”
Muzzin skated in his usual spot on the second defensive pair with Justin Holl at practice on Monday.