That’s 30: Matthews makes his mark
Rookie scores twice in 3-2 OT loss to Montreal
TORONTO — Auston Matthews had No. 31 on his stick.
It was less than a minute into Saturday’s overtime and the 19-year-old was in alone opposite Montreal Canadiens netminder Carey Price. Matthews had already beaten Price twice in regulation and another goal would have delivered the Maple Leafs a much-needed two points — not to mention a second career hat trick for the already dominant American centre.
Matthews got the shot off — despite Alex Galchenyuk’s best efforts in retreat, including an attempted whack — but Price got the knob of his stick on it, sending the shot and ultimately the game Montreal’s way as the Canadiens went on to win 3-2.
Matthews became just the third Leafs rookie ever to hit 30 goals with his two-goal performance in defeat against the Canadiens — the 14th straight loss for Toronto against Montreal. He’s rapidly approaching the franchise rookie record for goals in one season, just five from eclipsing Wendel Clark, who had 34 goals in the 198586 season. Daniel Marois is the only other Leafs rookie to hit 30 goals, notching 31 for the club in the 1988-89 season.
“I knew he was an elite player,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said when asked if he expected Matthews to score 30. “I never spent any time thinking about what his stats would be, just that he would help us win. That’s what I like about him — he helps you win because he plays right and he’s getting better every day. He’s going to be our No. 1 centre here — if he’s not already — in no time and he’ll be a guy who’s driving our franchise.”
Matthews trails only Sidney Crosby (34) in the Rocket Richard trophy race, topping the Leafs both in goals and points (54) and also now equal to Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine for top spot among all rookies in both categories.
His first goal against Montreal was a solo effort. Matthews got a pass from Jake Gardiner in the neutral zone and burst into the offensive end with speed. To gain just a touch more space from the Canadiens defence, he slowed up as he approached the right faceoff circle and then let it rip.
The shot hit the outstretched stick and then arm of Habs defenceman Alexei Emelin, bounced off the ice and then snuck through Price’s pads
It was his National Hockey League-leading 11th game-opening goal of the season. For No. 30, Matthews got his stick on a pass from Zach Hyman, doing so just before Emelin could tie him up in front.
Matthews finished with two goals and seven shots in almost 18 minutes, his line struggling at even-strength against Montreal (33 per cent puck possession).
Saturday was his fifth multi-goal game of the year. Matthews is on pace for 73 points, which would break Peter Ihnacak’s franchise rookie mark of 66 (1982-83). He has six gamewinning goals with a shot at equalling and perhaps passing Howie Meeker’s rookie record of eight, which has stood for 70 years.
Auston Matthews, right, and William Nylander celebrate Matthews’ second goal of the contest that knotted things up at 2 in the third period Saturday night.