NHL should sit its stars ev­ery once in a while

24 Hours Vancouver - - SPORTS - MICHAEL TRAIKOS

In hockey, the term used is “main­te­nance day.”

It sounds a lot like some­one is tak­ing his body to the auto shop for a tune-up, but it mostly means a player was too sore to prac­tise. By now, no one ques­tions it. Hockey is a phys­i­cal sport. If you need to skip work to soak in an ice bath or get a mas­sage, go do it.

The ques­tion is why doesn’t it hap­pen on game days? Maybe it should. Maybe it is and we just don’t know.

Two days af­ter Aus­ton Matthews was a game-time de­ci­sion in a 4-3 shootout win against the Ve­gas Golden Knights, and one day af­ter he missed prac­tice with “sore­ness,” the best player on the Toronto Maple Leafs sat out Wed­nes­day night’s game against the Min­nesota Wild. The of­fi­cial word from head coach Mike Bab­cock is that Matthews is day-to-day with an up­per-body in­jury. The un­of­fi­cial word was that he needed a break. And few could blame him.

This is a bru­tal part of the sched­ule for the Leafs. Af­ter play­ing four games in six nights on the road last week — three in Cal­i­for­nia and one in St. Louis — they re­turned home for an­other four tilts in six nights this week. In to­tal, they play eight games in 13 days, two of which are on back-to-back nights.

If this was the mid­dle of March, per­haps what­ever is ail­ing Matthews wouldn’t have kept him out of the lineup. But if you are go­ing to miss a game to rest a bump or a bruise, bet­ter to do it in the sec­ond week of November when the points in the stand­ings don’t seem as dire.

“I think you’re never go­ing to feel 100%,” Matthews said af­ter Mon­day’s win against Ve­gas, in which he had an as­sist and logged a game­high 21 minutes and 11 sec­onds among for­wards. mtraikos@postmedia.com

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