Zach Aston-Reese wouldn’t mind if the Maple Leafs sported their green and white jerseys more often.
Morgan Rielly, meanwhile, looks to finally be heating up with the post-season beckoning.
Aston-Reese scored twice and Rielly found the back of the net for the second time in as many games Friday as Toronto downed the Carolina Hurricanes 5-2 on a night that saw Luke Schenn play at Scotiabank Arena as a member of the home side for the first time in almost 11 years.
“Always easy to play the rest of the game when you score on your first shift,” said Aston-Reese, who had one goal in his 23 previous appearances. “I was hoping for a third, but happy with the night.”
Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner provided the rest of the offence for Toronto (41-18-9), which got 32 saves from Ilya Samsonov. John Tavares added two assists, while Rielly added another for a two-point performance.
“When they were pressuring us hard, we did our job,” Marner said. “We bent a little bit, but didn’t break. We stayed to our structure.
“We got opportunities off it, and when we did, we didn’t miss.”
The Leafs sported their Toronto St. Pats threads – a nod to the franchise’s moniker from 1919 through 1927 – on St. Patrick’s Day.
“Like these jerseys a lot,” Aston-Reese said with a grin.
Brady Skjei and Martin Necas replied for Carolina (44-15-8). Pyotr Kochetkov stopped 19 shots.
“A team with that skill level, you just can’t be giving them chances,” Hurricanes winger Jordan Martinook said. “You’ve got to be able to stick with your game plan and stay tight, stay above people, don’t let their skill guys get behind you.
“We let that happen too many times.”
Schenn played his first game in Toronto as a Leaf in nearly 4,000 days after he was reacquired from the Vancouver Canucks ahead of the NHL trade deadline.
“In one regard, yes, it feels like another lifetime,” said the 33-year-old, who was drafted fifth overall by Toronto in 2008 before his trade to the Philadelphia Flyers in 2012.
“In the same breath, everything just is familiar.”
Schenn received a nice ovation to start the game. He heard the old “Luuuuuke” chants rain down from the stands after a third-period hit on Sebastian Aho during a penalty kill.
“It hasn’t been smooth sailing,” said the defenceman from Saskatoon. “But there’s no question that the fans have always been great to me.”
Toronto opened the scoring early in the first period. Aston-Reese tipped an Erik Gustafsson point shot for his sixth goal of the season before Marner ripped his 25th in off the post.
Skjei got one back two minutes later with his 14th on a shot that squeaked through Samsonov.
The Leafs made it 3-1 before the period was out on a power play.
Tavares saw his effort hit a Carolina stick and bounce in off Matthews for his 32nd – and the first goal surrendered by Carolina’s second-ranked penalty kill in 13 games.
The Hurricanes crept back within a goal midway through the second period when Necas snapped his 26th.
But Aston-Reese bagged his second of the night on a 2-on-1 with Sam Lafferty. Aston-Reese’s two-goal performance was his first since October 2019 when he was a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“He’s sniper,” Samsonov deadpanned of Aston-Reese, who has never registered a hat trick in the NHL. “Everybody knows this.
“I’m so happy for him.”
Rielly then roofed his fourth – and second in as many games – midway through the third on another 2-on-1 with Matthews to put things out of reach.
“Playoff-type of game feel in terms of both teams being conscious not to allow too much offence,” said Rielly, whose club was coming off Wednesday’s 2-1 shootout loss to the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche.
“Good effort by us.”
Toronto lost Noel Acciari late in the first when he took a blow up high in a collision with Jesse Puljujarvi.
The Leafs, who were left with 10 forwards after once again dressing an extra defenceman, said the veteran centre was held out for precautionary reasons.
Acciari won’t play Saturday, but was in the locker room with teammates post-game.
“My view of it, obviously, is it should be a penalty,” Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “It’s tough to lose a player like that on a play like that.”
Marner’s goal gave him at least a point in 58 of Toronto’s 68 games this season.
The only player held off the scoresheet fewer times is Edmonton Oilers superstar Connor McDavid, who’s been blanked in just seven contests.
On the board
Gustafsson’s assist was his first point with the Leafs since his acquisition from the Washington Capitals late last month for fellow defenceman Rasmus Sandin.
Next man up
The Hurricanes played their second game minus Andrei Svechnikov.
The star forward had 23 goals and 55 points in 64 games before suffering a season-ending knee injury last Saturday.
“Big loss,” Carolina head coach Rod Brind’Amour said a couple hours before puck drop. “But no one’s gonna feel sorry for you ... gotta find a way.”
Acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks along with Lafferty before the deadline, Leafs defenceman Jake McCabe was still living in a hotel, but hopes to be settled into a house with his family following Toronto’s upcoming road trip.
“The hockey playing is the easy part of this transition,” he said Friday morning. “It’s what I know, it’s my job ... that’s what I focus my energy towards.”
The time spent away from his wife, Gaby, and their two young children is the tough part.
“Thank god for FaceTime,” McCabe said.
Leafs: Visit Ottawa on Saturday.
Hurricanes: Visit Philadelphia on Saturday.