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There was speculation that Matthews, who has 10 goals and nine assists in 16 games, might face the Devils after he returned to practice Wednesday.
Matthews said he’s not quite 100 percent. “It’s always frustrating to miss games; it sucks watching,” Matthews said. “It feels boring when you can’t skate.” Babcock saw some rust on the 20-year-old center at Mastercard Centre at the Leafs’ practice facility, but he doesn’t have any reservations about putting Matthews in if he’s cleared to go.
The Toronto Maple Leafs center had just finished addressing the media at Air Canada Centre on Monday after a 4-1 loss against the Arizona Coyotes, the team he had grown up cheering for in Scottsdale, Arizona. As he was about to slip through a door at the back of the dressing room, he was informed that former Coyotes captain Shane Doan had taped a congratulatory message for Matthews regarding his 100th regular-season NHL game.
Matthews had left the Maple Leafs’ morning skate early on Monday with soreness and was a game-time decision to play against the Vegas Golden Knights that night. He ended up with 21 minutes of ice time against the Golden Knights and had an assist in Toronto’s 4-3 shootout victory.
The 20-year-old Matthews, the first overall pick in the 2016 draft, won the Calder Trophy last season after finishing with 40 goals and 29 assists in 82 games. One of my Leafs fan friends was recently pondering whether Matthews — 20 years old, 87 games into his career — is the best Toronto player of the past 40 years, ahead of Hall of Fame names Gilmour and Sundin and Sittler. Much like “plan the parade,” it’s a statement that normally would draw snorts and groans about Toronto exceptionalism — the kind of thing you’d typically hear Don Cherry warble if Matthews was from Stouffville, Ontario, instead of the American desert.
Patrick Marleau’s power-play goal gave Toronto a 5-2 lead at 5:27 of the third. Auston Matthews made a hard pass to the cheap authentic nhl jerseys top of the crease, where Marleau redirected the puck for his ninth of the season.
“I play with some pretty great players, so a lot of credit to them,” Matthews said. “But I think the most important part is that, as a team, we have been getting better each game, each segment, so we are in a good spot right now and just need to continue to play well.”
Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews set the record for goals by an American-born rookie when the Arizona native scored his 39th goal of the season. It’s been a whirlwind two seasons for Matthews, who spent his draft year playing in Switzerland before a trip to Russia for the worlds last spring, where he scored six goals and nine points in 10 games.
“For a second year in the league, you see a lot of young guys making the playoffs and teams that weren’t so good that are now making it into the playoffs,” Matthews said. “I think it’s awesome for the guys in this room, especially all the rookies. It’s something that we’ve yet to experience it at this level, so we’re looking forward to it.”
Such is the competitive nature of Matthews. There will be plenty of time for reminiscing about this milestone in days to come. But in this moment, the disappointment churning in his gut, it was a topic to be put on the backburner.
They can offer small reminders that Matthews has endured slumps before. He went stretches without goals while playing in Switzerland last season. His dad remembers it happening twice while Auston was part of the United States national team development program.
The kid from Scottsdale, Arizona, looked right at home in his first outdoor NHL game. And Auston Matthews and the rapidly maturing Maple Leafs might just have hit fast-forward on their rebuild.
Perhaps missed on first glance was the slight whack Matthews gave Karlsson on the left leg, an attempt to make the defenseman think he was coming from the left instead of the right. He then got a quick shot under Anderson’s glove seconds before Marc Methot could drop to the ice and break up the play.