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Sheldon Keefe discusses Auston Matthews' status ahead of final 2 games


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Mike Armenti
April 14, 2024  (12:11)
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Auston Matthews celebrates a goal against the Arizona Coyotes
Photo credit: Mark J. Rebilas, USA Today Sports

With just two games remaining on their season, the Toronto Maple Leafs have a big decision to make regarding Auston Matthews. Does Sheldon Keefe play him or rest him ahead of the playoffs?

Last night, we saw Auston Matthews score his 69th goal of the season - a feat which we have not seen since Pittsburgh Penguins great Mario Lemieux did it back in 1995-96. Predictably, once #69 crossed the goal line, the focus shifted towards getting Matthews the puck as much as possible over the final 29 minutes of the game in an attempt to get him to 70 goals ahead of the Leafs' final two games of the regular season this coming week.
Sheldon Keefe hitched his wagon to Matthews last night, playing the superstar center 24 minutes against the Red Wings, watching his players funnel every puck they could through Matthews in an attempt to get #70 out of the way so that he could rest him. Unfortunately, he couldn't get another one across the line, as the Wings knew what the Leafs' assignment was and adjusted their game plan accordingly to defend the Scottsdale kid as tightly as they could. Now, Sheldon Keefe has a difficult decision to make. He discussed whether he'd play Matthews in the final two games or rest him following last night's loss to the Wings.
"We'll make the decision that's best for the team. We got guys dropping right now. We're going to have to dress 18 skaters. We got some guys that won't be available for us, so that in itself is going to be a factor."
-Keefe on Matthews

There are a lot of risks that come with playing Matthews just so he can hit 70 goals. Assuming Matthews plays and doesn't hit the marker early in the game against Florida, the Leafs may end up pushing his minutes upwards of 20 minutes yet again, adding extra wear and tear before the playoffs and risking injury. Last night, for example, the entirety of Leafs Nation held their breath in unison as Matthews crashed hard into the boards after a scoring attempt. He was very slow to get up.
Thankfully, Matthews was able to remain in the game and did not appear any worse for the wear, but the focus on everyone's minds now is that if something similar were to occur again over the final two games, he might not be so lucky next time. We also don't know whether the spill he took last night will leave him with any ill effects today. It was a hard impact and he was clearly shaken up. Unfortunately, with the team not playing until Tuesday in Florida, we may not know what his status will be until at least Monday, possibly even game day.
70 goals is special. Let's just get that out of the way right now. It's been nearly 30 years since we've seen it last, and it may be 30 more years before we see it again - if ever. However, when weighing the importance of scoring 70 goals versus the importance of having some sustained playoff success and a better shot at a Stanley Cup, I don't think there's any comparison. For every single player in the NHL, if you asked them if they'd rather score 70 goals in a season or win a Stanley Cup, I don't think you'll find too many who would opt for an individual accomplishment over a Stanley Cup.
The Maple Leafs are undoubtedly a better team with Auston Matthews on the ice than without. He wouldn't be in Hart Trophy consideration if he wasn't the most valuable player to his team, so in that sense, the decision seems like a simple one. Either rest him for the final two games or make peace with the fact that, if he gets injured trying to chase 70, it was completely avoidable from the very start.
POLL
14 AVRIL   |   566 ANSWERS
Sheldon Keefe discusses Auston Matthews' status ahead of final 2 games

If you were Sheldon Keefe, would you play Auston Matthews to try to get him to 70 goals or sit him to give him rest before the playoffs?

Rest him. A Cup matters more than 70 goals6812 %
Play him. 70 goals is incredibly rare35662.9 %
There's really no wrong answer here14225.1 %
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