The absence of leading goal scorer Auston Matthews has done little to cool off the Toronto Maple Leafs, who carry a five-game winning streak into Saturday night’s matchup at the Montreal Canadiens. Matthews, out the past four games, scored the decisive goal last month when Toronto ended Montreal’s 14-game winning streak in the series.
Although Matthews has been practicing this week, Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock labeled the reigning Calder Trophy winner as a game-time decision for Saturday’s game. “I’m trying to get a feel for everything each and every day,“ Matthews said after Friday’s practice. ”I feel like I have a ways to go to getting the feel for the puck I had and just the pace of play I was playing at before.” The Canadiens will try to bounce back from a 5-4 setback to NHL-worst Arizona, which marked the Coyotes’ first regulation win of the season. “It’s more embarrassing than frustrating,” Montreal coach Claude Julien said after his team squandered three separate leads in its second straight defeat.
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ABOUT THE MAPLE LEAFS (13-7-0): William Nylander, who scored 22 times last season, ended an 11-game drought by netting the lone goal with 2.2 seconds left in overtime in Thursday’s 1-0 victory over New Jersey. “When you haven’t scored in a while as a young guy you start thinking too much instead of playing and working,” Babcock said.“They want to score every night and if you’re a point-getter you think you should be doing that every night.” Defenseman Morgan Rielly has one goal and five assists during a five-game point streak.
ABOUT THE CANADIENS (8-10-2): With Montreal set to play its third game in five days, Julien eschewed a punishment skate as a message to his team at Friday’s practice to keep the players fresh. “It gives this group an opportunity to show some character and show that the game was unacceptable and they want to redeem themselves,” Julien said. “I would expect us to have some pride and bounce back.” Brendan Gallagher, who registered a career-low 10 goals last season, already has eight after scoring five times in the past nine games.
1. Maple Leafs G Frederik Andersen has allowed four goals and owns a .965 save percentage in his last three starts.
2. Montreal’s Max Pacioretty, Jonathan Drouin and Jordie Benn are all questionable after missing Friday’s practice due to the flu.
3. Toronto signed F Josh Leivo to a one-year, $950,000 contract extension on Friday.
PREDICTION: Canadiens 3, Maple Leafs 2