Auston Matthews says he’s simply shooting at what’s open.
The Maple Leafs star is certainly seeing a lot of daylight this season.
Matthews scored twice to increase his NHL-leading goal total to 16 as part of a four-point night Thursday as Toronto thumped the Ottawa Senators 7-3.
The 23-year-old has put up that gaudy goal number in just 17 games – he missed one with a hand injury – with 15 coming in his last 13 contests.
“He’s picking goalies apart,” Leafs winger William Nylander said. “They don’t really stand a chance.”
Mitch Marner, with a goal and three assists, and Joe Thornton, with a goal and two assists, also scored for Toronto (13-3-2), which wrapped up the three-game set against the Senators with a pair of victories following a stunning overtime loss.
Nylander added a goal and an assist, while John Tavares and Ilya Mikheyev rounded out the scoring for the home side. Morgan Rielly and Alexander Kerfoot each chipped in with two assists.
Matthews, Marner and Thornton combined for 11 points, including nine with all three playing on the Leafs’ top line.
“We work extremely hard,” said Thornton, who suited up for his third game in four nights after the 41-year-old missed 10 with a fractured rib. “We’re working to get open for each other. It’s just the hard work we’ve been putting in.”
Now with at least a point in each of his last 15 games, Matthews said the trio’s ability to read off each other is key.
“It just starts with our play in the offensive zone,” he said. “We just move really well finding each other in space, moving the puck quick.
“Those two guys, they’re really easy to play with. It’s a lot of fun.”
Michael Hutchinson made 34 saves for the Leafs in place of No. 1 goalie Frederik Andersen, who had started 10 straight with Jack Campbell sidelined because of a leg injury. Joseph Woll backed up Hutchinson as the North Division leaders gave Andersen a break from having to dress for the second time this season.
“I thought he was really good,” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said of his third-string netminder. “He got better as the game wore on.”
Tim Stutzle, with a goal and an assist, Connor Brown and Drake Batherson replied for Ottawa (4-14-1). Marcus Hogberg allowed one goal on five shots before leaving the game with a lower-body injury midway through the first period. Matt Murray, who played in Wednesday’s 2-1 loss, made 20 saves in relief.
“They got a couple early and we got away from the way we have to play,” Senators head coach D.J. Smith said. “We got sloppy and just allowed them too much room.”
Toronto was also without winger Zach Hyman after he took a shot off the skate Wednesday, while defenceman Zach Bogosian was given a rest. Nic Petan dressed up front, with Mikko Lehtonen slotting in on the blue line.
Ottawa, meanwhile, was minus star minute-chewing defenceman Thomas Chabot. Christian Wolanin took his spot on the back end, while veteran forward Artem Anisimov was scratched in favour of Matthew Peca.
The rebuilding Senators roared back from a 5-1 deficit to secure a jaw-dropping 6-5 overtime victory Monday – the first time in franchise history Ottawa won a game after trailing by four goals – before the Leafs rebounded with that 2-1 decision Wednesday.
This one never really felt in doubt.
Toronto opened the scoring on its second power play at 10:29 of the first when Matthews fired a shot through Hogberg.
Thornton, who had two goals disallowed Wednesday, finally got his third of the season at 16:43 when he redirected Jake Muzzin’s point shot past Murray.
Stutzle, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2020 NHL draft, got that one back for Ottawa with a bullet from a tight angle that beat Hutchinson upstairs off the rush 1:08 later for the rookie’s fifth.
But the Leafs restored their two-goal late in the period when Marner fooled Murray with a reverse pass behind the Ottawa net to Matthews, who jammed home his 16th to make it 3-1.
“We had a much better first period than our last outing,” Matthews said after the Senators had a decided territorial edge early Wednesday. “Our second period was our best by far. We really controlled the play and didn’t give them too much space.”
Mikheyev put Toronto up by three with his second through a screen at 1:39 of the middle period before Marner dangled around a defender and roofed his eighth on Murray at 3:45 to make it 5-1 – a score line fans of both teams remember well from Monday.
“We gave them a little bit too much time and space,” Brown said. “When top-end players in the league get time and space, they’re going to make things happen.”
Hutchinson, who played for the first time since Sept. 4 when he started for the Colorado Avalanche in their Game 7 loss to the Dallas Stars in second round of the 2019-20 playoffs inside the Edmonton bubble, was beaten shortside by Brown for his fourth at 7:37 as the visitors crept to within three.
There would, however, be no comeback this time.
The Leafs restored their four-goal edge at the 11-minute mark on another power play when Nylander, who was called out on the front page of one of Toronto’s daily newspapers Wednesday, banged a rebound past Murray for his first point in six games, and first goal in seven, to carry a 6-2 lead to the locker-room.
“A lot of games without a point,” Nylander said. “Obviously it gets to you a little bit.
“I still think there’s a ways to go. Got a little lucky today.”
After Austin Watson hit the crossbar for the Senators in the third, Hutchinson made a nice stop on Chris Tierney, but could do nothing on Batherson’s bank shot off Lehtonen at 11:11.
Tavares, who like Nylander has taken heat recently for a lack of production, rounded out the scoring at 16:53 with his sixth of the campaign.
The last-place Senators hit two more posts late, but wouldn’t get any closer.
Led by a top line firing on all cylinders, Toronto now heads to Montreal to take on the well-rested Canadiens, who haven’t played since downing the Leafs 2-1 last weekend at Scotiabank Arena.
“The puck’s going in the net right now,” Matthews said. “And that’s great.
“But the most important thing is that we’re winning.”