13 is an unlucky number for Auston Matthews.
The Leafs rookie had yet another impressive outing on Tuesday at Air Canada Centre, generating four shots on goal in 20:44 of ice time while carrying the play almost every time he was on the ice.
Yet, Matthews was still held off the scoresheet, his goal slump having reached an astonishing 13 games. With his historic four-goal debut all but a distant memory, Matthews remained in good spirits as he addressed the media following Toronto’s 2-1 defeat to Carolina.
“We knew coming into the game they play a similar style to us,” he said. “There’s not much space out there, the neutral zone is kind of clogged up.”
Indeed, scoring opportunities were scarce for the home team. The Leafs’ lone goal opened the scoring in the game when Jake Gardiner fired a point shot past Cam Ward at 5:55 of the first period. From then on, the Leafs struggled with creating traffic in front of the Hurricanes’ crease. Matthews, playing with his usual linemates William Nylander and Zach Hyman, seemed to have the puck on a string during his shifts, but once again failed to find the back of the net.
“I thought Auston’s line was dominant, they had lots of chances,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. “The way I look at it, you do good things in life and good things happen. Sometimes not as quick as you want to.”
Special teams were the Leafs undoing. Carolina evened the score before the end of the first period after Jeff Skinner found the puck in a logjam during a Hurricanes power play, eventually banking the puck off the skate of Leafs forward Matt Martin for the equalizer.
The eventual game-winning goal came on a shorthanded breakaway in the second period, courtesy of former Leaf Viktor Stalberg. On the play, Tyler Bozak turned the puck over in the neutral zone. With defencemen Connor Carrick and Nikita Zaitsev caught pushing forward, Stalberg streaked down the ice and got the better of Frederik Andersen in the Leafs’ net.
Toronto’s record dropped to 8-8-3. It was just the team’s third loss on home ice, compared with seven victories.
“I expect us to find a way to win tomorrow night,” Babcock said of his team’s Wednesday outing in New Jersey. “It’s important to bounce back. We haven’t won on a back-to-back this year, it’s time we win in a back-to-back and go from there.”