Auston Matthews scores twice in return, Maple Leafs win
TORONTO (AP) — Auston Matthews says the last month was torture watching his Toronto Maple Leafs.
The star center jumped right back in the action at full speed Wednesday night.
Matthews had two goals and an assist in his return to the lineup after missing 14 games with a left shoulder injury and Toronto beat the San Jose Sharks 5-3 for their third straight victory.
“It kind of just eats away at you,” Matthews said about his time on the shelf. “Watching what we’ve been able to do the last month, we’ve played pretty exceptional at times.”
The 21-year-old American was exceptional himself early with a goal and an assist on two power plays before adding the exclamation point on a third-period deflection to help Toronto pull even with surprising Buffalo atop the NHL’s overall standings.
In between, however, Matthews didn’t think he was all that impressive in his first game back playing on a line with speedsters Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson.
“After the first I felt terrible,” Matthews said. “The second period, I didn’t feel too good and then in the third period I got my legs.”
John Tavares also scored twice, former San Jose star Patrick Marleau added a goal, Mitch Marner had three assists, and Johnsson finished with two assists to help Toronto improve to 18-8-0. Frederik Andersen made 38 saves to improve to 8-2-0 over his last 10 starts.
Tomas Hertl, Joe Pavelski and Melker Karlsson scored for San Jose, Logan Couture had two assists and Aaron Dell made 24 saves.
“My personal opinion, I don’t think we’re close,” Sharks forward Logan Couture said. “We show spurts and signs that we’re capable (of playing with the best in the league) but we haven’t put together an effort against a top-quality team. ... We got to figure it out soon. I’m a believer that it takes time. (But) I’m a believer that it doesn’t take 26 games, so we need to figure it out.”
Matthews sat out 14 games after taking a clean hit from Winnipeg’s Jacob Trouba on Oct. 27. He had 10 goals and six assists in the first seven games of the season, but was held off the scoresheet in three consecutive outings before getting hurt. He made an almost immediate impact against San Jose, taking a pass from Marner and finding Tavares at the edge of the crease on a power play at 3:38.
San Jose got that one back at 10:40 when Hertl banged the puck past Andersen after Leafs defenseman Travis Dermott could only partially block Kevin Labanc’s pass in front on a Sharks’ man advantage. The Maple Leafs regained the lead just 39 seconds later on another power play when Matthews ripped his 11th upstairs short-side on the helpless Dell.
Tavares made it 3-1 with 16.3 seconds left in the first when he finished off another pass from Marner, this time on an odd-man rush for his 17th goal of the season.
A third assist could have been credited to Leafs assistant equipment manager Bobby Hastings, who got a new stick to Marner after his broke right before the sequence that led to the goal.
“Put him on the scoresheet,” Matthews joked. “That was unbelievable.”
Toronto’s power play connected a third time in three successive chances, this time with the No. 2 unit, at 1:53 of the second when Marleau took a clever pass from Johnsson and fired upstairs on Dell for his sixth and Toronto’s third goal with the man advantage against the NHL’s top penalty killing unit. The 39-year-old Marleau, who played 19 seasons with the Sharks, scored against San Jose for the first time, giving him at least one goal against all 31 NHL franchises.
“They went 3 for 4. You’re not going to win on the road giving up two power-play goals nevermind three,” San Jose coach Peter DoBoer said. “Our attention to detail on the PK is as good as anybody in the league. It wasn’t tonight and you’ve got to give them credit.”
Pavelski got San Jose back within two when he scored his eighth on yet another power play, rifling a shot from the bottom of the left faceoff circle that Andersen could only get a piece of with the inside of his pad at 4:18.
Matthews put the game out of reach for good with his 12th midway through the third when he tipped Johnsson’s shot past Dell’s glove.
Melker Karlsson got one back for San Jose, his second, with 1:58 left in regulation.
Notes: Matthews has scored in all four career games where he’s returned from an injury. Toronto was 9-5-0 without Matthews and is 10-3-0 overall in its last 13 games. ... Erik Karlsson, who was traded from Ottawa to San Jose in an eight-player blockbuster deal in September, will play his first game back in Canada’s capital on Saturday.
Sharks: At Ottawa on Saturday.
Maple Leafs: At Minnesota on Saturday night.