Matthews returns as Maple Leafs roll past Canadiens
MONTREAL — The Toronto Maple Leafs are on their best run in three years, and now they’ve got Auston Matthews back in the lineup.
Matthews scored twice in his return from an upper-body injury and the Maple Leafs extended their winning streak to six games with a 6-0 victory over the Montreal Canadiens Saturday night.
Matthews returned after missing four games and scored Toronto’s final two goals in the third period. He increased his total to 12 goals and recorded his second multi-goal game of the season.
“It feels good to be back,” Matthews said. “I didn’t feel too hot out there the first two periods but I think it’s just all part of coming back and not playing in four games. So definitely some room for improvement but obviously when you come into this building it’s not going to be easy, and a big win tonight, for sure.”
Frederik Andersen made 33 saves for his second straight shutout and 13th career shutout. He made 16 saves in a scoreless first period after making 42 stops in a 1-0 overtime win over the New Jersey Devils on Thursday.
“I think I’m being aggressive on the puck,” Andersen said. “I think I’ve talked about it a little lately, that I’m trying to challenge the shooter a little bit more and obviously we’ve been playing really well too.”
Toronto’s winning streak is its longest since winning six straight from Dec. 6 to Dec. 16, 2014. Toronto was on a 1-5-0 skid prior to starting its streak.
“I think we’re getting better,” Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. “I didn’t think we showed it in the first half of the game, to be honest with you, I thought we relied on goaltending and we weren’t near as competitive as we have been. But that’s what you pay the goalie for, some nights you need him to be good to help you out, to get you established so you can get going. And then once we got settled in, obviously we were much better.”
Matthews’ first goal at 8:59 of the third period, the Maple Leafs’ third of four goals in the period, made it 5-0 and chased Montreal goalie Charlie Lindgren, who made 22 saves in his seventh consecutive start.
Montreal lost its third straight (0-2-1) and is 1-3-1 in its past five games.
“If we’re able to put one in when we get chances at the beginning of the game, it might be a different story,” Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty said. “But eventually that team will make you pay, they just have so much offense that’s able to come wave after wave. They were able to get that first one and they built off that. It was too much and we weren’t able to recover.”
Toronto took a 2-0 lead in the second period on goals 37 seconds apart by Ron Hainsey and Nazem Kadri.
Hainsey scored his first goal on a wrist shot past Lindgren from the top of the slot at 12:07. Kadri increased the Maple Leafs’ lead to two with his 10th goal at 12:44.
“The second goal wasn’t necessarily caused because of a letdown after the first, but it definitely changed things,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien said. “We had played some good hockey up to that point. We’re making fundamental mistakes that are costing us dearly.
Connor Brown made it 3-0 with his eighth goal 25 seconds into the third. James Van Riemsdyk scored his 10th goal at 8:11 of the third.
Matthews scored his 11th goal 48 seconds later to increase the lead to 5-0. He got his second goal of the game at 15:27 when he snapped a shot past Antti Niemi, who made his Montreal debut in relief of Lindgren.
“In the third period we need to come out strong, with a strong push, and they scored on the first shift,” Canadiens defenseman Jeff Petry said. “We left (Lindgren) out to dry a couple of times and that’s unacceptable.”
NOTES: Hockey Hall of Fame members Ray Bourque (Boston), Yvan Cournoyer (Montreal), Rod Gilbert (New York Rangers), Dave Keon (Toronto), Frank Mahovlich (Detroit) and Denis Savard (Chicago) represented the NHL’s “Original Six” teams for a pregame ceremony in honor of the league’s 100th anniversary celebrations. ... The Maple Leafs improved to 7-0-0 when leading after two periods. ... Maple Leafs C Auston Matthews played his 99th NHL game. Toronto went 4-0-0 while Matthews was sidelined. ... Maple Leafs G Frederick Andersen got his first assist of the season on Toronto’s second goal. ... Canadiens LW Max Pacioretty, C Jonathan Drouin and D Jordie Benn played after missing practice Friday because of the flu. ... Montreal coach Claude Julien dressed the same lineup as Thursday.