Auston Matthews lights the lamp twice in return to action

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nhl/players/7109/" data-ylk="slk:Auston Matthews">Auston Matthews</a> made a triumphant return to the matchup for the Maple Leafs (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
Auston Matthews made a triumphant return to the matchup for the Maple Leafs (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

On Saturday night the Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t need any magic from Auston Matthews. He showed them some anyway.

In a 6-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens, the 20-year-old scored twice to announce with some level of certainty that he’s ready to make a difference after missing four games with an upper-body injury. The Maple Leafs went 4-0-0 in his absence, but there’s no wrong time to get a superstar back – and it appears Matthews is back.

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Just under halfway through the third period, Matthews took a backhand pass from Mitch Marner and made no mistake on a goal Charlie Lindgren had absolutely no chance on.

To be fair, Marner deserves more credit for the play and Matthews is expected to finish these kind of chances. Still, it was a good sign for the Maple Leafs.

His second goal, however, was not just capitalizing on an opportunity. It was classic Matthews brilliance with a strong zone entry, a subtle toe drag, and a devastating wrister.

What makes these goals a little more interesting is that they came following a mid-game line swap that put Marner and Matt Martin on the sophomore’s flanks. Matthews opened the game with his traditional linemates Zach Hyman and William Nylander, but after the Maple Leafs’ slow start Mike Babcock mixed it up.

It would be exceedingly surprising to see Martin riding shotgun with Matthews for an extended period of time, but Marner could conceivably be a different story. From a stylistic perspective it’s easy to dream on a Matthews-Marner combo, and the latter has had a hard time finding his spot in the lineup this season. If Babcock continues to shuffle it’s difficult to imagine a better trigger man for his young winger than the best scorer on his squad – and it hasn’t been tested yet.

Matthews finished the game a plus-2 with three shots on goal and a block in 16:54 of ice time.

Update: Mike Babcock is reportedly going back to his standard lines on Monday, so the Matthews-Marner experiment will have to wait.

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