The Leafs’ big guns — Marner, Matthews, Matthews again — get going in shutout of Golden Knights
Like Christmas, or your birthday, or the next season of your favourite binge-able show, the Maple Leafs — the real Leafs — were worth waiting for.
After stumbling out of the gate to start the season like impostors of a bygone era, the Leafs everyone was expecting to see have now won three games in a row, capped by Tuesday night’s 4-0 win over the Vegas Golden Knights.
Sure, it was an undermanned Knights team that seemed outmatched on just about every shift. But the Leafs lost fairly embarrassingly to an undermanned Penguins team not too long ago when the sky seemed like it was falling around Toronto’s hockey heroes.
Now the sky is Maple Leaf blue, with the team’s top players contributing in the ways they’re paid to. Auston Matthews scored twice. Mitch Marner had a goal and two assists. William Nylander had a goal and an assist. John Tavares had an assist and has five points in his last three games. And Jack Campbell got his first shutout.
“It was awesome,” Campbell said. “Great to be a part of. Great to see everybody playing their game and getting rewarded with the two points.”
The recent bout of success — albeit against flawed teams — has calmed the nerves in Toronto, putting the Leafs above .500 for the first time since the third game of the season. Vegas came into the game having won three in a row despite missing stars like Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone. The Leafs are supposed to be able to defeat flawed teams, and they’re finally doing so.
“Right from the start, we took control of the game and I thought we maintained that all the way through,” Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said. “We were good on special teams, (we got) good goaltending. Certainly more indicative of what we think we’re capable of. That’s a short-handed team we were playing but, as we as we all know, we’ve played against short-handed teams before and it hasn’t gone like this.
“I thought all four lines today, six defencemen played well, and obviously Jack in net was perfect. So a lot of really good things to feel good about.”
The Leafs had been calling Matthews the best scorer in the NHL, but there was scant evidence of that in the early going of the season. The reigning Rocket Richard Trophy champion was stalled on one goal until scoring twice in the second period.
“It really feels good when you see it go in the back of the net,” he said.
So the Leafs are undefeated — as in one win, no losses — in games in which both Matthews and Marner score. Not to make light of it, but Toronto’s two biggest stars hadn’t scored in the same game since May 6 (against Montreal, a 5-2 win). Both had their struggles out of the gate, with Matthews coming back from wrist surgery. But now the big names are starting to heat up.
“Certainly we want to have more nights like that and be able to control the game from the get-go and then obviously finish off the way we did,” Tavares said.
“I truly love it here,” he said. “The guys have taken me in like I’ve been here my whole career. Special group. Special city. The fans are incredible. Any time they embrace me the way they have, it means a lot to me.”
“(Marner) was buzzing all night and the last couple of games like he’s been all over it, so it’s fun to watch,” Matthews said. “He’s an incredible player. And obviously that goal tonight was special.”
“(They’re) counted on to produce and make a difference offensively,” Tavares said. “There’s no doubt there’s just too much talent, too much drive and determination not to find a way. So good to see them put the puck in the net and be rewarded for playing hard.”