Leafs’ Matthews could return against Sharks

TORONTO — Auston Matthews said he is ready to return to the Toronto Maple Leafs lineup.

The question is whether the team’s medical staff will clear him in time for the game against the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday night at Scotiabank Arena or wait until Saturday when the Maple Leafs visit the Minnesota Wild.

The Maple Leafs did not play Tuesday while the Sharks were in Buffalo, where they lost 3-2 in overtime to the surging Sabres, who won their 10th straight.

It was the second straight loss for the Sharks, who dropped a 6-0 decision on the road to the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday.

Joe Pavelski scored twice in the final nine minutes for the Sharks on Tuesday and leads the team with 15 goals.

As for the Maple Leafs, Matthews has missed 14 games since Oct. 27 after he injured his shoulder in a collision with Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba.

“In my mind, I feel ready to play (Wednesday),” Matthews said Tuesday after his first practice with contact. “The guys took it easy on me for the most part, but just in those battle drills and competing and stuff, everything felt good.”

Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said final clearance for Matthews would not come until it is discussed with athletic therapist Paul Ayotte.

The 21-year-old center has 10 goals and six assists in 11 games this season.

“He looked fine out there (Tuesday) so we’ll see how he is,” Babcock said.

The Maple Leafs (17-8-0) are 9-5-0 this season without Matthews, including a 4-2 victory over the Boston Bruins Monday night. The Maple Leafs have won five straight home games.

“It’s never about one player, it’s about the team,” Babcock said. “We have a good leadership and the guys have worked hard most nights. We’ve had a tough schedule.”

Mitch Marner has been playing particularly well. He had three assists against the Bruins on Monday and has six goals and 27 assists in 25 games.

At times, it has looked as though Marner is playing a different game than the other players at times.

“I think that’s what you think with all good players, is it not?” Babcock said. “I think, if you’re watching (Boston), I think you think when (David Pastrnak) gets the puck and he’s playing a different game than everybody else too.

“What’s amazing is most of us have no time and space whatsoever. We’re banging it here and banging it there and chasing it. Then the really good guys seem to have all the time in the world and that’s what you’re talking about. That’s why they’re just gliding all over the rink and it’s seems effortless and it seems like fun and they have the puck all the time and you can’t figure out why. They’re just better than everybody else.”

The Sharks (12-8-5) are 4-5-3 on the road. They are considered somewhat of a disappointment so far this season.

“We’ll find it,” said backup goaltender Aaron Dell, who could get the start Wednesday after Martin Jones got the call Tuesday. “It’s coming more and more. We were a little too offensive-minded to start and then we went polar opposite for a while and tried to play too much defense. Now, we’re going back and forth trying to find that middle. A little more time and we should be able to get that perfected and we’ll be a tough team to beat.”

The Maple Leafs beat the Sharks 5-3 in San Jose on Nov. 15.

“I get the frustration,” Sharks defenseman Joakim Ryan told the San Jose Mercury News. “It’s natural for a fan base. Everyone in here grew up being a fan and you’re (upset) when the team loses. That’s what you should expect. It’s completely understandable. It’s frustrating when you’re not consistent. We could be doing a lot better. But considering how it’s gone, we’re still in a good spot.”

“We still have a lot of the same core guys, but some of the new guys that have come in are pretty important pieces,” San Jose defenseman Brenden Dillon said. “We know we’re a good team and we know we’re going to be a great team.”