TORONTO -- Carter Ashton hasn't scored in 30 NHL games this season, but he knows how to put the puck in the back of the net in the American Hockey League.
Ashton scored a hat trick -- giving him 13 goals in 16 AHL games this season -- to power the Toronto Marlies to a 5-2 victory over the visiting Lake Erie Monsters in AHL action on Sunday.
"He took the game over," said Marlies coach Steve Spott. "You see what he can do at this level.
"He's going to have to find that same confidence and swagger when he plays for the (NHL parent) Maple Leafs. Here in the AHL, he does a nice job, he maintains possession of the puck, he uses his body, uses his speed, and it becomes a weapon for him. He just needs to find the confidence to do that at the next level."
Ashton broke a 2-2 tie -- and completed his hat trick -- during a goal-mouth scramble when he deposited a rebound into the net past Monsters goalie Calvin Pickard at 6:16 of the third period. Defenceman T.J. Brennan, with his team-leading 21st of the season, gave the Marlies a two-goal cushion 45 seconds later when his point shot trickled through Pickard's legs. Brandon Kozun closed out the scoring with an empty-netter at 17:51.
"It's definitely a process, so to come back down and get these games and some good ice time, that's good for me," Ashton said. "And we finished off our homestand with a win, so that's great."
Toronto went 7-3-0 on its 10-game homestand and improved to 33-18-4 on the season, good for first place in the North Division. Ashton's linemates, Spencer Abbott and Greg McKegg, collected two assists apiece in front of 4,351 fans at Ricoh Coliseum.
Joey Hishon and Mike Sgarbossa replied for the Monsters, who dropped their second game in a row to fall to 23-26-6.
"Give Lake Erie credit, they found a way to get back into it after a two-goal deficit," said Spott, who watched the Monsters strike twice in the latter stages of the second period after Toronto had staked a 2-0 lead. "We knew we were at home, playing the last period of a 10-game homestand, and we wanted to take advantage of it. I give our guys a lot of credit for the way they played the final 20 minutes."
Marlies goalie Drew MacIntyre was sharp making 26 saves, while Pickard stopped 18 of 22 shots.
Toronto led 1-0 after the first period and the score was tied 2-2 through 40 minutes.
The Marlies opened the scoring 53 seconds into the first period when Ashton took a pass from Spencer Abbott in the slot, cut to the left and whipped a wrist shot past Pickard's blocker. The Monsters had some chances of their own in the opening frame -- including a two-minute 5-on-3 power play and a breakaway by right winger Guillaume Desbiens -- but they couldn't beat MacIntyre.
Ashton gave the Marlies a two-goal edge when he deflected Greg McKegg's point shot past a screened Pickard at 10:02 of the second period. The advantage was shortlived, however, as Hishon put the Monsters on the scoreboard 52 seconds later when he redirected a slapshot past MacIntyre. Sgarbossa tied it up when he whacked in a rebound for a power-play goal at 18:35 of the middle frame.
Ashton regained the lead for Toronto with his third goal of the game at 6:16 of the third period, and Brennan's goal 45 seconds later sealed the win for the Marlies. Kozun capped the scoring with an empty-netter at 17:51
Toronto went 0 for 3 on the power play while Lake Erie was 1 for 6.
The Marlies and Monsters are off until next weekend, when Toronto visits Lake Erie for back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday.