Auston Matthews has scored in seven straight games he's played in, but there's some debate about whether this personal-best streak actually constitutes a hot stretch for the superstar sharpshooter.
"We were just joking about it, like, it's hard to even call them 'hot streaks' anymore, because it just seems like he's hot all the time," said centre Alex Kerfoot with a smile.
"I just try to have the same mindset whether the puck's going in or not," Matthews said after Saturday’s game, "and every time you shoot it just believing that the next one's going to go in, the next one's going to go in."
Matthews, who leads the league with 10 goals in 11 games, has been a dominant force all over the ice. He's throwing more bodychecks than last season and is often in perfect position in his own end.
"He's so smart defensively," gushed new teammate T.J. Brodie. "He's always in a good spot especially with the D-man going back. He's always right there and I know I can bump it or just take a hit and I know he'll be right there to grab the loose puck."
The 23-year-old centre potted a pair of goals in both wins against the Canucks last week. After Saturday's game, head coach Sheldon Keefe said Matthews could've had even more goals, but they limited his minutes and offensive-zone starts after jumping out to comfortable leads.
"He could have had four or five," Keefe noted. "He was really feeling it."
Matthews made a jaw-dropping move to score his first goal on Saturday picking up a loose puck in the Canucks zone and easily moving around Jalen Chatfield and going bar down on Braden Holtby.
"You think there's no room there and then he finds a way to get the puck through," Brodie marvelled.
"Any kind of opening you give him he's going to take advantage of it," Kerfoot said. "He just creates so many opportunities. He's so dynamic with the puck on his stick and the way he uses his body and stick position to create space."
Matthews took advantage of a Holtby giveaway in the third period on Saturday taking the puck off the glass and going five-goal on the veteran keeper who glared at J.T. Miller afterwards.
"A lot of that goal happens because I'm not moving my feet and I don't think there's anything wrong with holding your teammates accountable," Miller said. "I think that happens on a lot on good teams and just because you guys caught it doesn't change anything. That happens all the time so we're moving past it."
Chatfield finished Saturday's game minus-4 and will be a scratch tonight as Olli Juolevi draws in. Holtby will start again making this the first time he’s gotten the call in back-to-back games with the Canucks.
Matthews logged 17 minutes and 46 seconds on Thursday and then 20 minutes and 36 seconds on Saturday. His average this season is 21 minutes and 42 seconds. The Leafs will dress 11 forwards and seven defencemen tonight, which means Matthews could be in line for more minutes than usual.
Rasmus Sandin will make his season debut. The 20-year-old hasn't played since March.
"I just want him to go out and have fun, enjoy each shift and each minute that he gets," Keefe said. "It's not going to be a lot for him out there today."
Mikko Lehtonen, who posted two assists on Saturday, will continue to slot in beside Zach Bogosian on the third pairing.
"Mikko's coming off his strongest game and Mikko will be part of the regular six rotation and Ras will get shifts here and there and spot in as [assistant coach] Dave Hakstol sees fit," Keefe said. "We've moved a lot of forwards in and out, giving them opportunity, but he hasn't had that quite yet. That's more what today is, to give him that chance and then, at the same time, I think there are some benefits and things that I'm looking forward to on the forward end of it."
Travis Dermott skated with the main group for the first time since suffering a charley horse on Thursday. Keefe is hopeful the 24-year-old defenceman can play Wednesday in Montreal.
Wayne Simmonds will miss six weeks after sustaining a broken wrist on Saturday. He skated on a line with John Tavares and William Nylander in the past two games. With Simmonds out, Keefe is planning to fill that top-six spot by committee tonight.
"It allows us to try different things with the lines and move people around and get other people additional opportunities," Keefe explained. "I suspect we'll have a rotation of people throughout the game filling in with the Tavares and Nylander pairing."
Jimmy Vesey started the season on that line, but failed to gain traction. He had a chat with Keefe at the end of this morning's skate.
"He expects more of himself and we think he's capable of more," Keefe said. "But I also think he's found a way to contribute each game. There's a lot of little things that he does in the game in terms of getting the puck back, in terms of being in good spots defensively."
Vesey has two goals and one assist this season. On Saturday, his point drought extended to four games.
Ilya Mikheyev got a look with the Nylander-Tavares line during the final three games of the Alberta road trip, but didn't make a huge impression and is still looking for his first goal this season.
"We think there's some things he can do a little bit differently or a little bit better to improve upon generating more high-danger shots and using his speed and skill to get to the inside a lot more," Keefe said. "At the same time, similar to Vesey, we think there's a lot of other things that he does that don't involve producing offence that bring value to our team. That's important."
The injury to Simmonds may hit Toronto hardest on the power play where the Scarborough, Ont. native was a force in front of the net. Simmonds scored his third man-advantage marker of the season on Saturday night.
Here's how the Leafs practised on the power play this morning:
Matthews - Tavares - Mitch Marner
Nylander - Kerfoot - Jason Spezza
So, Hyman and Tavares move to the Matthews-Marner unit while Kerfoot shifts to the Nylander-Spezza unit and Mikheyev gets a look in front of the net.
"Between Simmonds and Jumbo [Joe Thornton], that's two guys that were playing down the middle there on the power play, net front and in the middle, so it changes that unit, obviously, significantly," Keefe admitted.
New assistant coach Manny Malhotra has opted for two balanced units with an emphasis on the net-front role this season and Keefe doesn't want to stay too far from that.
"We still like the idea of having two units and think that Spezza and Nylander playing the flanks on the other group have brought a lot and still expect it to roll that way," Keefe said. "You may see things move around a little bit. Tavares and Hyman might bounce back and forth between the two units depending on which one starts each power play, which is usually determined based on energy levels."
"Nothing really changes for us," Kerfoot said. "Manny's made it clear to us he has a plan, and he wants us to execute on it."
Thornton, who has been out since suffering a fractured rib on Jan. 20, actually took reps with Tavares and Nylander at the morning skate. Nick Robertson, who suffered a knee injury on Jan. 16, also stayed out with the full team for the first time since getting hurt.
"We do think there's progress here with both Thornton and Robertson," Keefe said. "In Jumbo's case, in particular, we know that he brings a lot to us and he'll help insulate some of that loss with Simmer in terms of his personality and voice and experience on our bench and in our dressing room."
The timeline for both Thornton and Robertson was initially listed as four weeks. The four-week mark for Thornton is Feb. 17 (a week Wednesday) while Robertson hits four weeks on Saturday.
"No firm timeline here yet," Keefe cautioned. "Obviously, the fact that they're skating and doing so comfortably is a very positive thing ... it's probably fair to say not this week."
Leafs lines at Monday's morning skate:
Hyman - Matthews - Marner
Thornton - Tavares - Nylander
Vesey - Kerfoot - Mikheyev
Barabanov - Boyd - Spezza
Petan - Engvall - Robertson
Rielly - Brodie
Muzzin - Holl
Lehtonen - Bogosian
Sandin - Dermott