Sabres Notebook: Eichel not yet at practice but Matthews close to return

Sabres Notebook: Eichel not yet at practice but Matthews close to return
Timeline for Matthews coming into focus
Theres no word yet on any sort of timetable for Jack Eichels return to the Buffalo Sabres lineup. Meanwhile, the Toronto Maple Leafs appear to be on the verge of getting Auston Matthews back, but his return may not come when the teams meet Thursday in KeyBank Center.

The Sabres are 6-6-2 without Eichel, who suffered a high ankle sprain Feb. 10 at Boston and has resumed skating on his own but has yet to practice. His timetable is officially listed by the team as indefinite although its known the club was working on a progression of 4-6 weeks. Eichel hit four weeks with Saturdays shootout loss to Vegas.

Matthews, who has been out since Feb. 22 with a shoulder injury, practiced Monday in Toronto in a red (no-contact) jersey but made it through an entire workout that went about an hour. Afterward, Toronto coach Mike Babcock ruled Eichels friend and All-Star teammate out of Wednesdays home game against Dallas but did not go deeper into the schedule.

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“Hes obviously feeling way better, Babcock said. “I noticed when we were doing the contact stuff he didnt do as much of that, didnt dive right into it. I never talked to anyone about that, its just what I noticed. Id suspect hed be pushing, not for the Dallas game, but after, I dont know when.”

After Thursdays trip to Buffalo, the Leafs have a home game Saturday against Montreal. They have won a franchise-record 10 straight games in the Air Canada Centre and host the Sabres in the ACC on March 26 and April 2.

“As he feels better, hell get involved more,” Babcock said of Matthews. “It doesnt matter who is in the lineup, we expect to win. We have to be dialed in.

Matthews has also missed time this year with a concussion and a back problem. The Leafs are 8-6-2 in the 16 games hes sat out to date, including Saturdays 5-2 win over Pittsburgh. Matthews has 50 points in 53 games this season (28 goals, 22 assists). Eichel has 53 points in 55 games (22 goals, 31 assists).

Matthews and Eichel both missed the Sabres 5-3 win over Toronto here on March 5. Assuming Matthews doesnt play Thursday, it will mean he will go more than 18 months without playing a game in KeyBank, the building where he was drafted No. 1 overall in 2016. His last game here was on April 3, 2017, and the 2018-19 schedule would not start until October.

With five days between games, the Sabres took their second consecutive day off Monday. They will return to practice Tuesday in HarborCenter.

The Sabres remain 30th in the NHLs overall standing, one point ahead of last-place Arizona. But the red-hot Coyotes can overtake Buffalo with a win Tuesday night against Los Angeles. Its the second game of a five-game homestand that Arizona opened with Sundays 1-0 win over Vancouver.

The Coyotes are 10-3-2 in their last 15 games, with their 22 points in that span tied for fourth-most in the NHL since Feb. 8. The only teams ahead of them entering Monday were Nashville (12-2-2, 26 points), Tampa Bay (12-3-1, 25) and Florida (11-3-1, 23). The Sabres are 8-6-2 in that span and tied for 11th.

The Coyotes, however, will be without coach Rick Tocchet for an unspecified period as he was granted a leave of absence by the team Monday afternoon to deal with a family illness. Assistant John MacLean, the former head coach in New Jersey, will run the Coyotes in Tocchets absence. The team did not provide any other details on Tocchets situation.

The Carolina Hurricanes are in the market for a general manager after new owner Tom Dundon kicked Ron Francis into the role of president and announced a new GM would report directly to the owners office. Their search has apparently taken them through Buffalo.

TSNs Bob McKenzie reported Monday that the Canes asked for permission to interview Steve Greeley, one of the Sabres two assistant GMs, and have completed that discussion. Greeley and Randy Sexton were hired by Jason Botterill last spring to join the Buffalo front office. Sexton, who had spent the last seven years with Botterill in Pittsburghs scouting department, is serving this year as the GM of the Rochester Amerks.

Greeley, 37, had spent the last two seasons as assistant director of player personnel with the New York Rangers. He spent the 2013-14 and 2014-15 season as an associate coach at Boston University, where he worked with Eichel, Evan Rodrigues and Danny ORegan. He spent seven seasons (2006-13) as a scout for the Los Angeles Kings.

According to TSN, the Hurricanes are believed to be reaching out to many candidates who have been mentioned in the Sabres last two GM searches. They would include New Jerseys Tom Fitzgerald, Los Angeles Mike Futa, Nashvilles Paul Fenton and Tampa Bays Julien Brisebois.

The Hurricanes currently have the longest playoff drought in the NHL, not qualifying since 2009. That is the only year that they have reached the postseason since they won the Stanley Cup in 2006, the year they beat the Sabres in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final.

Story topics: Arizona Coyotes/ Auston Matthews/ Buffalo Sabres/ Carolina Hurricanes/ Jack Eichel/ Steve Greeley/ Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews warms up before a NHL hockey game against the Washington Capitals, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

TORONTO — Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews has taken another step towards returning to Torontos lineup.

The 20-year-old suited up for his first full practice Monday since suffering a shoulder injury on Feb. 22. He was still wearing a red non-contact jersey, but head coach Mike Babcock was encouraged to see his young star last an entire session.

"Hes obviously feeling way better," Babcock told reporters.

Matthews has been skating on his own, and was a brief participant in a pair of practices last week.

He also missed four games in November with a back injury before sitting out six more in December because of what was believed to be a concussion.

"Hell be in better shape when he comes back than he was when he left just because two of his previous injuries he couldnt skate during that time," Babcock said. "I think thats important for him. Itll still take him a bit for timing."

Babcock said Matthews will likely miss Wednesdays game at home against Dallas — his seventh in a row — but added he could suit up either Thursday in Buffalo or when Toronto hosts Montreal on Saturday.

"I would expect that hes going to be pushing not for the Dallas game, but after that sometime," said the coach. "I dont know when that is exactly, but I imagine that as hes feeling better hell be part of the plan."

Despite missing 16 games this season, Matthews still leads the Leafs in goals with 28 and sits second in points with 50.

Posted in Buffalo