Matthews leads Leafs over Capitals in home opener

TORONTO — Sheldon Keefe wanted an answer.

The Maple Leafs head coach got just that in his team’s home opener thanks to a familiar face — and a few new ones.

Auston Matthews scored the game-winning goal in the third period and Ilya Samsonov made 24 saves against his former team as Toronto beat the Washington Capitals 3-2 on Thursday.

The Leafs were coming off a lackluster performance in a 4-3 road loss in Montreal some 24 hours earlier in their curtain-raiser that made the flight home uncomfortable.

Keefe gave a searing assessment of that performance and was no happier Thursday morning when he met the media following a tough team meeting.

« You don’t want to use one of those balls after the first game, » he said after the win. “We have high expectations as a team.

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« It was important for us to really talk about it, to be honest about it, to not just dismiss it as just one more game or the one 82 game. »

Calle Jarnkrok, who like Samsonov signed in free agency, and John Tavares scored the other Leafs goals (1-1-0). Morgan Rielly added two assists.

« It’s a game, » said Matthews, the defending Hart Trophy winner as the NHL’s most valuable player after the league’s first 60-goal season in a decade, of Montreal’s loss. . “But you always want to start well.

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« Good rebound win. »

Nic Dowd and Marcus Johansson answered for Washington. Charlie Lindgren stopped 36 shots for the Capitals (0-2-0), coming off Wednesday’s 5-2 loss to Boston in their home opener.

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« A start we don’t want to have, » Washington captain Alex Ovehckin said. « A wake-up call. »

With both teams playing the second in a straight streak, there wasn’t much ice available in the third period until Matthews tipped a Mark Giordano point shot that handcuffed Lindgren and dribbled down the goal line to break a 2-2 tie at 6:55 a.m.

Samsonov and his new teammates were then forced to hold on with the Leafs shorthanded twice in the final four minutes and Lindgren on the bench for an extra forward.

« We talked about being more patient with our game, » Tavares said. “We tried to do a little too much (in Montreal), we were caught hunting a little.

Toronto opened the scoring 6:40 from first on a power play that finally clicked after a few great chances when Rielly found Tavares.

The Capitals responded at 9:57 a.m. by Dowd before Johansson gave Washington the lead on a shot from off the run – a shot that Samsonov, who played three seasons with the Capitals before being released in July , will want to return at 1:52 p.m.

The Leafs bet big on Samsonov and Matt Murray – two goaltenders with solid pedigrees, but also a lot to prove based on their recent performances – after letting Jack Campbell walk in free agency.

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“A lot of emotion in the first period, said the Russian goalkeeper. « First game with the Leafs for me and (against) my old team. »

Starting in place of No. 1 option Darcy Kuemper, Lindgren couldn’t do anything on Toronto’s equalizer at 4:03 of the second when Alexander Kerfoot took a pass to the offensive blue line and delayed before to find a Jarnkrok for his first with the Leafs.

Samsonov was in a shooting range later in the period on a power play, including an outburst from Ovechkin.

Toronto came awfully close to moving forward just before intermission, but Matthews and Michael Bunting failed to connect on a bouncing puck in the Lindgren crease before the Leafs pushed ahead in third .

« We had a frank discussion this morning, » Keefe said. « The guys reacted very well. »


Samsonov was drafted 22nd overall by Washington in the 2015 draft, but did not receive a qualifying offer from Washington, making him a free agent.

The 25-year-old was 52-22-8 with a .902 save percentage and a 2.81 goals-against average in 89 regular-season appearances with the Capitals.

« My former teammates talked a lot with me today, » Samsonov said with a smile. « A lot of swear words…that’s good. »

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Hollywood star and former professional wrestler Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson was in the building to promote his new film ‘Black Adam’.

« TV downtime, kind of minding my own business, » Matthews said. « I look up and The Rock pops out of nowhere. That was pretty cool.


Leafs: Host the Ottawa Senators on Saturday in the first of four meetings with their provincial rivals.

Capitals: Host the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday to open a two-game homestand.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on October 13, 2022.


Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter.

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