MONTREAL — Leafs' Matthews ignites offense with two goals while becoming complete player.
Auston Matthews continues to give us reasons to talk about him, so we will. But much like his teammates who are in awe of his performance this season, we're running out of things to say.
"I mean, I think no one can," Marner said at a loss for words to describe Matthews' recent play. "I mean, get the puck to Matts."
Matthews scored twice to extend his NHL lead in goals to 18 and extended his point streak to 16 games as the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Montreal Canadiens 5-3.
Both teams felt each other out after a goalless first period with both teams were virtually deadlocked in scoring chances, shot attempts and just about every other advanced metric there is.
It wasn't until a 5-on-3 power play when Matthews fired his opening salvo, completing a one-timer from Mitch Marner that gave Toronto a 1-0 lead at 1:03 of the second period.
His second goal of the night helped the Maple Leafs restore a two-goal lead that evaporated earlier in the frame. His wrist shot on the power play beat Montreal's Carey Price and gave Toronto a 4-2 lead at 15:05.
"I don't have any more adjectives other than what you guys have been using," Alex Kerfoot said of Matthews' play. "He's playing at an elite level."
Matthews picked up assists on the other Toronto goals in the second period to cap a four-point evening. One of those came on Marner's goal at 7:31. With Shea Weber skating toward him, Matthews managed to make a pass to his line mate just milliseconds before taking a hit from the Montreal defenseman.
It's those types of plays that have been a difference-maker for Matthews this season. He can deliver the hits but can also take them.
"I want to score, but I've been trying to do little things that help the team win and put the momentum on our side," Matthews said. "Just playing that full 200-foot game and competing night in and night out, that's really all I’ve been looking at, looking for myself to do."
Matthews is lighting a match to the rest of the North Division with his complete play. Sure, Connor McDavid is arguably the better player right now. Still, Matthews' consistent ability to put goals in the net this season has been unmatched and Toronto continues to reap the benefits by improving to 14-3-2 this season.
The NHL hasn't had a player join the 50-in-50 club (50 goals in 50 games) since Brett Hull did it for the second time with the St. Louis Blues during the 1991-92 season.
Matthews has 18 goals in 18 games. He'd technically need 50 goals in 49 games because he missed one due to a hand injury. The NHL requires a player to accomplish the feat during the team's first 50 games.
This season, with this level of competition in a not-so-great defensive North Division, it's doable.
Mitch Marner picked up his team-leading 21st assist on Saturday. It's seven more than the next Maple Leaf on the list (Morgan Rielly, 14).
"I think it's also important that we recognize the play of Mitch Marner here and how he's really teamed up with Auston, "Keefe said. "They’re pushing each other to new heights and it's been fun to watch that."
It took a few seasons before we saw Matthews and Marner play on a line together and at this rate, they probably won't even be split up again (save for tactical adjustments in-game).
Power play is back
The Maple Leafs scored on their first three power-play chances against the Canadiens and it had a lot to do with why Toronto ended up winning this game. Montreal performed better at even strength on Saturday.
Montreal had a 59 percent share of expected goals at 5-on-5, according to Natural Stat Trick.
Travis Boyd scored a power-play goal that made it 2-0 at 1:20 of the second period on a nifty 2-on-0 feed from Joe Thornton.
Hyman battles through
Returning from a foot injury, Zach Hyman skated 18:11. He blocked another shot with his foot and had to leave the game for a moment in the second period.
To his credit, when he rejoined his teammates, Hyman showed no signs of any discomfort, showing the right foot speed in the third period to negate an icing call against his team.
"He's far from 100% here, but taking a day off and a game off, it seemed like he had extra legs today," Keefe said. "Especially in that third period, he was putting on a clinic with how he was on the puck."
William Nylander didn't skate a shift for the final 8:45 of regulation time. There's been a lot of talk about the forward's play with supports on social media expressing their feelings both in support and defense of the skilled forward.
I actually didn't notice the Nylander benching until I saw Kerfoot scored Torontos' fifth goal with Jason Spezza and not Nylander as the other winger with Tavares.
So it had to be asked.
"I thought the past two games he’s had good stretches, good legs, looks dangerous like he’s ready to break out," Keefe said of Nylander. "I just didn’t like some of (the team) things tonight once we got the lead, but in the third (period) we got it going and Willy didn’t match that."
Keep an eye on Andersen
Frederik Andersen made 27 saves to pick up the win after getting the night off on Thursday. In his pregame comments on Thursday, Keefe mentioned that Andersen is dealing with a few things.
In the opening minute, Justin Holl collided with the back of Andersen's leg while trying to defend Montreal's Josh Anderson.
Andersen looked a bit out of sorts while recovering but stayed in the game. His health is something to keep an eye on.