John Tavares steps into the void and leads the Leafs past the Jets

Auston Matthews not scoring yet? No worries, John Tavares has it covered.

The Maple Leafs captain scored two goals in a 4-1 win over Winnipeg on Saturday night, the Leafs’ second straight win after an alarming loss to Arizona last week.

« It was a good road win to start this journey, » Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe told reporters. Toronto has four more road games against Las Vegas, San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim.

Tavares has three goals in six games, two more than Matthews, and leads the Leafs with eight points.

Matthews, however, remains involved, assisting on four of the Leafs’ last five goals. He has five total assists and had 13 shot attempts against Winnipeg, a single-game high.

« You can tell it’s right there, it’s ready to burst, » Keefe said.

Equally important to the Leafs was their response to the Jets, who gave them two of the most physical games Toronto faced last season. The second and third periods saw some of that tough game reignited, but Toronto proved they could handle a tough, physical game from a tall opponent. The Leafs outfitted Wayne Simmonds and Kyle Clifford, tough wingers who defend their teammates, to make sure of that.

The two were not called upon to drop the gloves, but Morgan Rielly did, responding to a predatory jab from Josh Morrissey on Nick Robertson. Rielly had arguably his best game of the season, and it was defined by a physical advantage in his own zone.

« It says a lot about (Reilly’s) character, the way he behaves and leads our group, » Tavares told reporters. « After that (response to Morrissey) we stayed cool and calm as the temperature of the game increased. »

David Kampf and Michael Bunting, in an empty net, scored the Leafs’ other goals, while Ilya Samsonov stopped 31 of 32 shots for a welcome 4-0 start to the season. The equally important Samsonov has a .939 save percentage. He is now the third goaltender to win his first four games as a Leaf, after Damian Rhodes (6-0 in 1990-91 and 1993-94) and Frank McCool (6-0 in 1944-45).

Keep ticking

Mitch Marner was buried in the boards, face first, on a hit by Dylan DeMelo in the first period. Marner was down for a few moments, but got up and skated normally to the bench. He was bruised and cut around his left eye but did not miss a shift.

Looking for #2

There’s been a lot of talk online about Matthews and how he missed four good first-period shot attempts, sniffing out a one-timer on the power play. Matthews also had one goal in his first six games last season before scoring 59 more. Winnipeg goaltender Connor Hellebuyck had a lot to do with Matthews’ frustration on Saturday.

old enemies

The Leafs and Jets shared two turbulent games last season, with Winnipeg winning 6-3 at home in December and Toronto winning 7-3 at Scotiabank Arena in late March. Simmonds fought six-foot-seven, 228-pound defenseman Logan Stanley in Game 1 after a scrimmage along the boards where the Leafs winger faced three Jets players. Stanley walked off the ice with both arms raised in victory and was later chosen player of the game by his teammates. This clip left the Leafs with a bad taste, and it was replayed on Twitter and on TV ahead of Saturday’s game.

Bowness back

It was Jets coach Rick Bowness’ first regular season game when he returned from COVID. « Hard…it really hit me hard, » Bowness told reporters in Winnipeg.


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