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Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews celebrates his goal against the San Jose Sharks with teammate Andreas Johnsson, at Scotiabank Arena, in Toronto, on Nov. 28, 2018.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Maybe, just maybe, Auston Matthews didn’t want his teammates to get any ideas about doing without him.

After he was lost to a shoulder injury on Oct. 27, Matthews saw the Toronto Maple Leafs run up a 9-5 record in his absence. So he once again made sure his presence was noted quickly when he returned to action Wednesday night in the Leafs’ 5-3 win over the San Jose Sharks, their third consecutive triumph and seventh in their last nine games.

This left the Leafs tied with their Atlantic Division mates the Buffalo Sabres for first place overall in the NHL at 36 points each. A showdown with the surprising Sabres will come next Tuesday in Buffalo.

It took three minutes and 38 seconds for Matthews to get his first point after 14 games on the shelf. Almost eight minutes after that he had his first goal, which like his assist came on the power play, making it four out of four times he scored in his first game back after being injured. Then he added a second goal in the third period to ice the night.

Matthews was dangerous every time he was on the ice with linemates Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson. Almost as dangerous as the Leafs’ power play, which saw Matthews return to the stacked first unit. The Toronto power play produced goals on three of its four opportunities.

“In the first period you’ve got the energy and the emotions and stuff,” Matthews said of his quick start. “After the first I felt terrible. The second period I didn’t feel too good and [in] the third period my legs got under me and I was skating more. It’s tough to get in game-shape just in practice.

“It felt a little fast the first couple shifts. Until you get up there, keep things simple. My linemates helped me a bit.”

Things went much the same for the rest of the Leafs. They all slowed down in the second period but picked it up in the third when they remembered the Sharks were playing the second of back-to-back road games and were growing weary.

John Tavares and Mitch Marner also made sure their presence was felt. Tavares scored twice and Marner had three assists, making it quite a night for the Leafs’ star players. Patrick Marleau scored the other Leafs goal. Tomas Hertl, Joe Pavelski and Melker Karlsson scored for the Sharks.

Even the Leafs’ off-ice staff got involved. Marner, Tavares and Matthews agreed equipment man Bobby Hastings deserved an assist for some quick thinking on Tavares’ second goal with the clock winding down in the second period.

A shot hit Marner’s stick in the Leafs zone as a Toronto rush was starting and broke it. Marner headed toward the Sharks zone without a stick. But Hastings saw what happened and hung a stick over the Leaf bench, which Marner grabbed in full flight, just in time to take the puck and make the pass to Tavares for the goal.

“Guys were saying the stick was already [over] their heads as soon as the shot hit me,” Marner said. “That’s the reason why that [goal] goes in. I’ve got to ask [Hastings] what’s his favourite drink and it’ll be coming to him soon, that’s for sure. Without him doing that reach-over and being ready that goal doesn’t happen.”

On the defensive side of things, Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen was once again solid. The Leafs were outshot 41-29 by the Sharks but Andersen picked up his league-leading 14th win.

Matthews claimed not to know why he is able to score so quickly after getting back into action.

“I don’t know. I think maybe just the excitement of being back out there with the guys,” he told Sportsnet’s Shawn McKenzie at the end of the first period. “It’s just nice to be back out there with the guys on my team.”

It was as if he was never away. From his first shift, Matthews was skating hard and dangling the puck on his stick. He and Kapanen, who worked well together until Matthews injured his shoulder on Oct. 27, picked up where they left off, although Matthews’ points came on the power play. Johnsson also kept pace, as it was his shot Matthews deflected for the third-period goal.

“I think in our lineup it really doesn’t matter what line you’re on, you get to play with guys who are skilled, work hard, make plays and finish chances,” Matthews said. “Tonight was the first night I played with [Johnsson]. He’s a speedy guy with skill, he can see the play. His nasty level is high.

“Obviously he and [Kapanen] know each other. I think if we continue to play with each other we’ll get better and better.”

The Sharks were not too shabby on the power play themselves, scoring twice on their three opportunities, but found themselves out-done by the Leafs. San Jose came into the game with the NHL’s best penalty-killing unit, with a success rate of 89.3 per cent. Then the Leafs chewed it up with three goals in three chances in the first two periods.

The first one, early in the third period, marked the first time the Leafs’ powerful first unit was together since Matthews was hurt. Matthews, Tavares, Nazem Kadri, Marner and Morgan Rielly took a few seconds to get settled but then started tossing the puck around the Sharks zone like they owned it.

Rielly fired the puck from the left point across to Marner at the right one. He then zipped a hard diagonal pass across to Matthews, in his familiar post at the left faceoff circle. Matthews waited a beat for Sharks goaltender Aaron Dell to commit to him and then snapped the puck through the slot to Tavares, who scored his first goal of the night into the open side of the net at 3:38.

The Sharks answered with a power-play goal of their own at 10:40 from Hertl. That one was a gift from Leafs defenceman Travis Dermott, who had Kevin Labanc’s hard pass hit his stick. But instead of corralling the puck or knocking it away, Dermott managed to slow it down and redirect the puck right on Hertl’s stick.

No matter, the Leafs seemed to say. The Sharks took a penalty 22 seconds after their goal and 17 seconds after that, Matthews had his 11th goal of the season. It was pretty much a replay of his previous power-play goals, as he again took a pass in the left faceoff circle, this time from Rielly. Matthews settled the puck on his stick and then ripped a wrist shot just under the crossbar.

There was a slight difference for Matthews this time. In the first month of the season he impressed everyone with his quick release in that situation. On this goal, he shifted the puck back and forth on his stick before shooting, not that Dell had any chance to stop it.

A couple of days before the game, Matthews said after a Leafs practice he felt good about his shot but wasn’t sure it was at the same standard it was before his injury.

“It felt good today. I don’t know, maybe Freddy [Andersen] was giving me a couple there in warmups,” Matthews said. “The more practices and games you get into, you get back to feeling like yourself. All that stuff will come along in time.”

Well, it seems it came along in 11 minutes and 19 seconds.

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