Thursday’s outing in Glendale, Arizona was a road game on the Leafs’ schedule, but Gila River Arena may just as well have been Air Canada Centre given the number of fans wearing Leafs sweaters bearing the name of Auston Matthews.
The Leafs superstar did not disappoint his native fans in the Grand Canyon State. Matthews scored the second goal of the game – on an amazing ‘curl and drag’ snipe – and combined with linemates Zach Hyman and William Nylander for four points in Toronto’s 7-4 win.
“It was a great feeling. Definitely one I’ll remember – a pretty special goal. Definitely pretty nice,” Matthews said of scoring his first-ever goal in Arizona, in his second career road outing versus the Coyotes.
Hyman, on a shorthanded breakaway, along with Matthews, and Mitch Marner staked Toronto to a 3-0 before Arizona took advantage of the Leafs’ soft defensive coverage and roared back with a pair of tallies before the first period ended.
But Patrick Marleau scored a pair of second period goals and William Nylander added his eighth marker of the year on a nifty breakaway to help put the game out of reach. Arizona crept to within 6-4 before Connor Brown sealed the affair with an empty-netter with 2:30 left in regulation.
Marner appears to be shaking off his sophomore jinx. He extended his point streak to four games, and has three goals and nine points over that stretch.
The Leafs lost Nazem Kadri for the final forty minutes after the centreman collided with Lawson Crouse in the first period.
“I don’t think it was serious,” coach Mike Babcock said to reporters immediately after the game. “We thought he was coming right back and then they just decided – that’s what they get paid to do. The plan is for him to play (Friday versus Colorado), we’ll find out then.”
Toronto’s players wore a commemorative patch inscribed with the letters “JB” to honour Johnny Bower, who passed away on Boxing Day. The team announced that a celebration of Bower’s life will take place on Wed. Jan. 3 at 3pm at Air Canada Centre. The event is open to the public, with first-come first-served seating available.