Jack Eichel and Auston Matthews remain sidelined by their injuries but the franchise players for the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs have both returned to the ice to skate on their own.
The good friends and All-Star Game teammates won't be going head to head Monday in KeyBank Center and it's probably unrealistic to think they will do so here March 15 as well. But Matthews is certain to be back from his shoulder injury in advance of the Leafs' run to the playoffs and the Sabres remain hopeful Eichel will play at some point in the wake of his second high ankle sprain in two years.
Eichel skated on his own Saturday for the first time since suffering his injury Feb. 10 in Boston, coach Phil Housley said after practice Sunday in KeyBank Center. Eichel, however, is still not ready to practice with the team and there's no timetable for any sort of return to action.
"We don't want to put him under that sort of pressure," Housley said. "He has skated. He started skating yesterday so that's good to see him start making progress."
Eichel remains the Sabres' leader in goals, assists and points with 22-31-53 in his 55 games. The team is 4-5-1 in the 10 games Eichel has missed. Buffalo won the Feb. 10 game in Boston that saw Eichel suffer the injury and sit out the final 46 minutes.
The games against the Leafs, which will also be held March 26 and April 2 in Air Canada Centre, are big ones to Eichel. He has quickly taken to the rivalry and likes the competition with Matthews, his close friend from USA Hockey and Team North America of the World Cup. So he definitely wants to return.
"That's the goal. But you never know how these things react," Housley said. "You don't want to put any timeline on it but it's good to see him skating and that's a step in the right direction. Obviously, he wants to play some games before the end of the year."
Matthews injured his shoulder against the New York Islanders on Feb. 22 and has been out of the lineup since, with the Leafs going 1-1-2. Matthews has missed 14 games this season due to this injury as well as a concussion and back trouble. He leads the Leafs in goals (28) and is second on the club in points (50)
"The great thing about the injury this time around is he can skate," Toronto coach Mike Babcock said after practice here Sunday. "He'll be in top-notch shape when he gets back, be ready to step in and get going."