National Post (Latest Edition)
Matthews scoring early and often at record pace
Leafs centre making habit of notching first goal of game
One thing about watching Auston Matthews: he’ll rarely keep you in suspense very long after O Canada as to whether his goal streak will go on.
If Matthews scores the game’s first goal again Monday against the Calgary Flames, it will extend his league lead to six in that category and be his 19th in as many games.
But there’s another unique mark — NHL Stats adds he’ll be the first ever to open five straight games with a goal.
Saturday’s strike in Montreal tied him with 11 others who’ve done it four times, stretching back to Billy Boucher of the Canadiens in 1923, up to and including stars such as Bobby Hull, Howie Morenz and Michel Goulet and Leaf greats Babe Dye, Sid Smith and George Armstrong.
Locally, a point of any kind will be 17 straight games, one behind the Leafs record shared by Darryl Sittler and Ed Olczyk.
While Matthews spent Saturday’s post-game insisting any big numbers he registers are for the greater good of team success and a higher playoff seed, coach Sheldon Keefe does take a moment to appreciate what he has in No. 34.
“An elite player, doing elite things. He and Mitch (Marner) obviously have a lot of great things going on. It’s important Auston is setting these (high) standards every day for himself and thus our team,” Keefe said. “It’s important to recognize Mitch and how he’s teamed up with Auston. They’re pushing each other to new heights and it’s been fun to watch. Jumbo (Joe Thornton) has come back and done a lot for the line as well.”
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
Nomadic Alex Galchenyuk has a few stories behind those luggage labels tied to his hockey gear.
But nobody who zoomed in on Sunday’s introduction heard much about his journey from third overall draft pick of Montreal and playing six years there to his six teams since 2018, landing last week on the Leafs. For one, it might equate to the length of a Ken Burns documentary. And Galchenyuk would rather look forward than back.
“We can sit here and talk about what went right, what went wrong here and there, injuries and all that,” the winger said. “But I think that’s part of playing hockey. I could talk about my career and how I’ve kept (changing teams), but that’s not where my head is at. I’m really excited to be here.
“I had a lot of great times, a lot of tough times. But most people move around (a few places).”
From the Habs to Arizona, then Pittsburgh, Minnesota and Ottawa, it was a dizzying tour, complicated by a lower body issue. It has now been more than a week since the Ottawa Senators traded him to Carolina.
After his last appearance as a Senator, Galchenyuk turned 27 and also cleared waivers, making him more desirable to the Leafs for roster and salary cap purposes. They acquired him from Carolina for high 2016 draft pick Egor Korshkov and defenceman David Warsofsky, the same night Toronto blew a four-goal lead to Ottawa, leading to thoughts Galchenyuk would be plugged right in.
But the Leafs have since won three straight and Keefe has brought him along slowly, still not able to judge him in a full practice. For now, the coach only refers to him as “another option.”
“I haven’t spoken about when I’ll be playing, just to stay (ready) and when the time comes I’ll get my opportunity,” Galchenyuk said. “This (shot with the Leafs) means a lot, it’s a good organization, an Original Six team. Being six years in Montreal, I know what it’s like to come to Toronto.”
CAMPBELL BACK IN CREASE
Galchenyuk, who is wearing No. 12, was in Saturday’s morning skate, then joined the Leafs scratches on Sunday at Ford Performance Centre. Also participating was backup goalie Jack Campbell, almost four weeks since a lower body injury against the Flames and stoked to be in uniform again.
“I’m not thinking about game action just yet, just about feeling better, getting the rust off,” Campbell said. “It was a blast being out there with the fellas and I’ll see what the trainers have in store for me tomorrow.”
While Campbell recovered, many fretted about Frederik Andersen’s inconsistency and his health having to play so many games. But the Leafs needed Michael Hutchinson just once, a game he won, while Andersen led the NHL in wins as of Sunday with 11.
“Freddy has been tremendous,” Campbell said. “It’s not that easy to ask a guy to play that many in a row and to that level every game. To sit up in the suites and watch him gives you a different perspective and for me to see all the things he’s doing well. He’s a huge confidence builder for our team.”
Interestingly, Campbell didn’t dispute he might have made his injury worse by staying in the final few minutes of the game in question against Calgary. There were only a few minutes left, but the adrenalin of wanting to finish, and worried about putting Andersen in net cold off the bench, prompted Campbell to hang in.
“Definitely I wasn’t coming out,” he said.
LIFE WITH RIELLY
Galchenyuk has an old friend on the Leafs, defenceman Morgan Rielly, whom he passed on the draft floor in Pittsburgh in 2012.
After Galchenyuk, a Sarnia Sting junior drafted third overall to the Canadiens, Rielly was the No. 5 selection of the Leafs.
They were earlier in the same CHL Prospects game in Toronto, Rielly for the Moose Jaw Warriors, and they were in some of the pre and post-draft festivities with the likes of Nail Yakupov, Ryan Murray and Griffin Reinhart.