The Toronto Maple Leafs will be without the NHL's top goal scorer when they begin a western road trip on Saturday night that starts with three games against the red-hot Edmonton Oilers.
Auston Matthews has been ruled out of Saturday's clash with a right wrist injury. He has scored a league-best 18 goals and is tied for third in scoring with Chicago's Patrick Kane (31 points) behind only Edmonton's dynamic duo of Connor McDavid (40) and Leon Draisaitl (34).
Matthews didn't score a goal when the Maple Leafs split their most recent two-game series with Calgary that began with a 3-0 loss on Monday night. He did assist on both of William Nylander's goals in Wednesday night's 2-1 overtime victory over the Flames.
Afterward, coach Sheldon Keefe was asked if the wrist was bothering Matthews.
"Yes, it was," Keefe said. "He's been dealing with it throughout the season."
Toronto holds a four-point lead over the Oilers heading into the series, which also includes games on Monday and Wednesday. The Maple Leafs then head to Vancouver for a Thursday and Saturday back-to-back.
Toronto will be playing an Edmonton team that is the hottest in the NHL, winning 11 of its past 13 games including a 3-0 victory over Vancouver on Thursday night.
Goaltender Mike Smith finished with 32 saves to improve to 6-0 with two shutouts since returning from a training camp injury.
Edmonton was a dismal 3-6-0 before its current hot streak that began with a 4-3 overtime victory over the visiting Leafs on Jan. 30 that was highlighted by McDavid's two goals, including the winner in OT.
The Oilers will bring a five-game winning streak into Saturday night's contest, with Smith having started in net in four of the victories and allowing a total of just six goals.
"It's fun to win, it's so much better than losing," Smith said. "It's been a treat to be a part of it and watch this team get better and better every single day.
"I feel we've really taken a step in the right direction. It's a different feeling in the locker room. This team is gaining confidence every single day we're together. Guys are having fun and jelling."
One big key for the Oilers' recent success has been special teams. Edmonton's potent power play is converting at a 36.2 percent clip over the 13-game stretch while the penalty-kill unit has killed 30 of the past 34 penalties.
"It's experience and confidence and learning how to win close games," Smith said.
Toronto, meanwhile, enters the series having not scored on its past 12 power-play opportunities.
"There's a number of things (why), but we're definitely out of sync," Keefe said. "Special teams, when we get into Edmonton, are going to be massive."
So will be the three-game series on the North Division standings.
"You take a look at the schedule and you know they're there," Edmonton forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said of the Leafs. "It will be our first time playing a team three times in a row, we have to prepare for that. We know they're ahead of us. That gives us a shot at them."
--Field Level Media