Auston Matthews is trying not to think or talk about his headline-grabbing, eye-popping tear.
Letting his play speak for itself is working out just fine.
The Maple Leafs star scored twice to increase his NHL-best goal total to 18 and added two assists Saturday as North Division-leading Toronto defeated the Montreal Canadiens 5-3.
Matthews, who also registered a four-point night in Thursday’s 7-3 victory over the Ottawa Senators, has put up that impressive goal number in just 18 games – he missed one because of a hand injury – with 17 coming in his last 14 contests.
“It seems like he’s playing a different game than most guys out there,” Leafs forward Alexander Kerfoot said. “He’s playing at an elite, elite level.”
The 23-year-old sniper is also just the sixth player in franchise history to register a point in 16 straight games, two back of record-holders Darryl Sittler and Ed Olczyk.
“Get the puck to Matts,” added linemate Mitch Marner, who finished with a goal and two assists. “Guy’s on fire right now.”
Matthews has scored twice in three of his last four outings and has seven goals over that span, but on top of that, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft has a noticeably more well-rounded game in his fifth season.
“I want to score, I want to produce and do those things,” said Matthews, who has 18 goals and 10 assists during his point streak. “But I’ve just been trying to do the little things that help the team win and put the momentum back on our side. It’s more than just scoring goals.
“Obviously that’s what I’m here to do, that’s what I want to do, but just playing that full 200-foot game, competing night in, night out, that’s all I can look to myself to do.”
Kerfoot and Travis Boyd had the other goals for Toronto (14-3-2), which got 30 saves from Frederik Andersen. Morgan Rielly added two assists for the league-topping Leafs in their fourth game in six nights.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Paul Byron and Tyler Toffoli replied for Montreal (9-5-2), while Carey Price stopped 22 shots.
The Canadiens, which played for the first time in a week after picking up a much-needed 2-1 road victory in Toronto last Saturday to snap a 1-3-0 stretch, had plenty of chances, but some crucial errors and allowing the league’s top power play to finish 3 for 3 was their undoing.
“We expect more out of ourselves,” said Montreal head coach Claude Julien, whose team now heads to Ottawa for two games beginning Sunday. “It’s disappointing because we had our legs, we had our opportunities. Had we been sharp mentally and really cut down on some of those mistakes, we could have won this game.
“But we shot ourselves in the foot.”
Toronto opened the scoring early in the second period on a 5-on-3 power play after Montreal defenceman Ben Chiarot was whistled for delay of game with his team already killing a penalty when Matthews took a cross-ice feed from Marner and one-timed his 17th of the campaign at 1:05.
Matthews then intercepted a Jeff Petry clearing attempt with the visitors still on the man advantage before Joe Thornton quickly found Boyd for his third to make it 2-0 just 15 seconds later.
The Canadiens responded when Kotkaniemi snapped an 11-game goal drought with his second on a breakaway at 3:24.
Byron – a Montreal alternate captain put on waivers earlier in the week – then jumped on a turnover and moved in alone on Andersen again before burying his first 33 seconds after that as the teams combined for four goals in 2:52.
Toronto went back in front at 7:31 when Matthews took a hit from Canadiens captain Shea Weber in order to feed Marner, who fired a quick shot past Price for his ninth.
Despite some terrific numbers of his own with 30 points in 19 games, Marner has been somewhat overshadowed by Matthews’ goal prowess so far in 2020-21.
“Auston is setting new standards, it seems like, every day,” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said after his No. 1 centre’s point total rose to 29. “But I think it’s also important to recognize the play of Mitch Marner here, and how he’s really teamed up with Auston.
“They’re pushing each other to new heights, and it’s been fun to watch.”
After not dressing Thursday following 10 straight starts, Andersen was at full stretch to rob Jake Evans later in the period off a pass from Byron in the fourth of 10 meetings between the Original Six rivals during the NHL’s truncated 56-game season.
Toronto went back on the power play inside the fan-less Bell Centre, with Matthews snapping a shot from distance that fooled Price for his NHL-best 18th goal – and fourth point of the period in his 300th career NHL game – to make it 4-2 at 15:05.
The Canadiens appeared to get back within one when Kotkaniemi jammed the puck over the line on a scramble, but the Leafs correctly challenged for goaltender interference.
“I didn’t like the chaos that was the second period,” Keefe said. “Once we got our (2-0) lead, we’ve got to do a better job.”
Montreal, which now trails Toronto by 10 points in the standings with three games in hand, pushed in the third period, but Kerfoot made it 5-2 with his fourth at 13:36 when Jason Spezza’s partially blocked shot on a 2-on-1 break fell to him on Price’s doorstep.
Matthews had a chance to secure just the third hat trick of his career with the teams playing 4 on 4 late, but Price was there with the glove before Toffoli got a consolation goal for Montreal, his 11th, with 1:26 left in regulation.
The Leafs won the first two meetings of the season between the clubs – 5-4 in overtime on opening night and 4-2 at the Bell Centre on Feb. 10 – before the Canadiens picked up that 2-1 victory in Toronto last weekend.
“The recipe for our success has been us competing and working hard,” Matthew said. “We’ve been focused on that, it’s been working. We’re winning games right now, which is the most important thing.
“As long as we’re winning, I’m happy, we’re all happy. We just want to continue that.”
Notes: The Canadiens begin a two-game set in Ottawa against the Senators on Sunday, while the Leafs welcome the Calgary Flames for a pair starting Monday. … Toronto defenceman Justin Holl played the 100th game of his NHL career. … Marner has goals in back-to-back outings against Montreal after being shutout in the first 16 games versus the Canadiens.