Auston Matthews lifts Maple Leafs past Capitals in home opener

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The contest between Auston Matthews and Alex Ovechkin to see which Rocket man would strike first this year went down to the final period of Thursday’s home opener for the Maple Leafs.

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Although Ovie had the best chance for the Washington Capitals, it was Matthews who earned a tie and then got a piece of defenseman Mark Giordano’s shot for a 3-2 victory Thursday. Both men have multiple Maurice « Rocket » Richard trophies.

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Matthews had been silenced for five periods, dating back to Wednesday’s 4-3 loss early in the season at Montreal. But his strike tied Wendel Clark for eighth in club history with number 260 and made former Cap keeper Ilya Samsonov a winner on his Toronto debut.

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Ovechkin is now 0-2 as well, often feasting on the Leafs even in his mid-30s. Defender Morgan Rielly had three assists in two games to join John Tavares for the club lead.

Charlie Lindgren, replacing new Caps starter Darcy Kuemper, still made 36 saves.

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The Leafs had to survive three penalties in the third period.

The crowd at Scotiabank Arena was starting to rumble when Toronto trailed 2-1 after the first but were reinvested when Calle Jarnkrok drove the net on his first Leafs goal, tipping a pass from Alex Kerfoot .

Maple Leafs goaltender Ilya Samsonov makes a save as Capitals Marcus Johansson (center) and Maple Leafs Mark Giordano face off in the first period. FRANK GUNN/THE CANADIAN PRESS
Maple Leafs goaltender Ilya Samsonov makes a save as Capitals Marcus Johansson (center) and Maple Leafs Mark Giordano face off in the first period. FRANK GUNN/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Leafs’ power play, one of their problems in Montreal, hadn’t been tracked early. Mitch Marner and Rielly worked the puck to Tavares for a tap, also ending internal speculation that Hall and Oates’ goal song would be dropped this season at SBA.

John Carlson tripped Matthews later in the period, but the Leafs failed to capitalize on that advantage and despite 21 shots, they were down at intermission.

Nic Dowd got a puck past Samsonov’s pad after Michael Bunting came on a bit scrappy to protest a run at Matthews. There was a bigger groan from the crowd when Marcus Johansson fired a shot through Samsonov, which followed Matt Murray’s first start against the Canadiens.

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The first and second periods ended with the Leafs unable to score on glorious chances.

In the morning, coach Sheldon Keefe said he had harsh words after the Montreal loss and expected more cohesion in a home game with the home crowd behind them.

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But even if Keefe had wanted to, he couldn’t change a healthy roster right now with a 20-man roster against the NHL salary cap.

« It’s a best-case scenario for us, to get back to it, » Giordano insisted after a morning meeting. “We can do a much better job of managing the situations and the puck. We’ve walked through it, watching the tape, it’s pretty obvious when we pass the shifts and when we don’t.

  1. September 24, 2022; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Ilya Samsonov makes a save against the Ottawa Senators during the first period at Scotiabank Arena.

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  2. The Canadiens' Cole Caufield scores his first of two second-period goals, on the short side, against Maple Leafs goaltender Matt Murray during the NHL's second period in Montreal on Wednesday, October 12, 2022.

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The Caps also lost Wednesday, at home to Boston. While they haven’t missed six straight first-round series like the Leafs, it’s been four and counting since Ovechkin’s team won the Stanley Cup in 2018.

Since Ovechkin broke into the NHL, the Caps have entered the postseason tournament 14 of 15 years, trailing only Pittsburgh. Like defending Richard Matthews Trophy winner, he had no goals or points on Wednesday, but with 780 goals he should easily score the 22 goals required this season to overtake Gordie Howe for second in league history. . He scored 41 goals in 53 regular season games against the Leafs.

« From the start, Ovie can put the puck in the net in different ways, » Giordano said. “But pretty much the same (like against Montreal), we can’t flip the puck and make the transition. There are two teams that aren’t feeling too good about their first game and you’ll see a bit of desperation from both of them.

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