Auston Matthews put his name in the Maple Leafs history books on Wednesday but it wasn’t enough to keep the home team from absorbing a 4-3 shootout loss to the Jets.
Two nights after getting skated into submission by Edmonton, Toronto’s players stumbled around for much of the evening like extras in a zombie movie.
Frederik Andersen fell, allowing Winnipeg to score into a wide-open net on its first shot. A power play was botched so badly that it turned into a short-handed goal by a Jets player with one point in 19 games. There was a too-many-men penalty, pucks hopped over sticks, passes were misdirected to empty spaces, open nets were missed and the Maple Leafs failed to score on a break-away.
The night began with the blue carpet rolled out to honour Ontario-born members of Team Canada’s gold-medal-winning squad at the world junior tournament. Then, a sombre interlude: a moment of silence to recognize victims of the Ukrainian airline crash in Tehran, Iran.
Things went largely awry after that, with the exception of Matthews netting his 30th and 31st goals of the season. With it, he became only the sixth player in team history with 30 or more in four consecutive seasons, and the first to do it in the first four years of his career. He also became the first American to accomplish the feat.
“He was just feeling it early, and he was feeling it all throughout the game,” Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said.
Matthews tied the game in the first period with a sharp wrist shot and then whistled in another to tie it with 14 seconds remaining in regulation time.
“[When it happened] I jumped about four feet in the air,” Leafs defenceman Travis Dermott said. “He gave us a chance to win the game.”
It was the seventh successive home game in which Matthews has scored, and brought him to within a goal of David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins for the NHL lead. Matthews has seven goals and five assists in his past six games and 12 over his past 11.
He also scored in a tense shootout that was ended by Blake Wheeler on the eighth shot.
“I think in general, the way [Auston’s] been playing has been like an MVP,” Toronto captain John Tavares said. “He keeps coming up huge for us. He drives the play and when he gets his opportunities, he knows how to put them in.”
The evening could not have begun more badly for the Maple Leafs.
Nikolaj Ehlers scored four minutes into the game after Andersen stumbled trying to corral a puck behind the net.
Matthews rescued him by tying it with a sharp wrist shot only 56 seconds later. Then Mason Appleton put the Jets back ahead on a short-handed breakaway two minutes before the intermission. Appleton had not scored this season before that.
In a game as sluggish as Monday night’s was fast with the Oilers in town, Toronto had only six shots in the first period and Winnipeg could muster but four. It scored on half of its tries, however.
The Maple Leafs were coming off a 6-4 loss to Edmonton on Monday in which they were dominated by Connor McDavid. Andersen was pulled in the second period after allowing three goals, including a pair 71 seconds apart.
"It’s pretty clear we weren’t even close to good enough against the Oilers,” Toronto captain John Tavares said after Wednesday’s morning skate. “We have to challenge ourselves to push to get better and not be satisfied.”
Winnipeg entered the game 31st and last in the NHL in killing off penalties, but stopped the Maple Leafs on three attempts. As the third man-advantage drew to a sloppy close, the crowd at Scotiabank Arena grumbled like an upset stomach.
After a stretch where it went 11-1-1, the loss was Toronto’s second in a row. It was the second consecutive victory for the Jets, who won at Montreal on Monday. Before that, however, the Jets had lost seven of their previous nine.
The Jets are one of three teams to feature two 20-goal scorers in Kyle Connor (21) and Mark Scheifele (21). Scheifele scored to put Winnipeg ahead 3-2 with 8:15 left in the second period. Dmytro Timashov’s fourth goal of the season had earlier knotted the game for the Maple Leafs.
Andersen, who was pulled early in the second period on Monday, finished with 25 saves, as did Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck.
Despite the clumsy start, Andersen had fans chanting his name during overtime as he came up with several spectacular saves.
Jason Spezza and Matthews scored in the shootout for Toronto, while Mitch Marner and William Nylander were turned away. Patrik Laine, Scheifele and Wheeler all beat Andersen in the shootout.
It was the first of back-to-back games for the Jets, who play at Boston on Thursday.
Toronto doesn’t play again until Sunday in Sunrise, Fla., against the Panthers. Their next home game is Jan. 14 against the New Jersey Devils.
On Thursday, the Maple Leafs will play an outdoors three-on-three game at noon at Nathan Phillips Square.
“They will have some fun time outdoors with the fans,” Keefe said.
It was a tough loss but Toronto earned a point on a night where they played poorly.
“Today was a much different game than the Edmonton game,” Keefe said. “I thought our effort was there today.”