Auston Matthews puts up two points in return as Maple Leafs down Sharks 5-3

The team’s star center jumped right back into the action without missing a beat on Wednesday.

Matthews had two goals and an assist on his return to the lineup after missing 14 games with a shoulder injury as the Leafs defeated the San Jose Sharks 5-3 for their third straight victory.

“It kind of just eats away at you,” Matthews said of his time on the shelf. “Watching what we’ve been able to do the last month. We’ve played pretty exceptional at times.”

The 21-year-old was exceptional himself with a goal and an assist on two power plays before adding the exclamation point on a third-period deflection. The Maple Leafs have now pulled even with the surprising Buffalo Sabres atop the NHL’s overall standings.

In between, however, Matthews didn’t think he was all that impressive in his first game back playing on a line with speedsters Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson.

“After the first I felt terrible,” Matthews said. “The second period, I didn’t feel too good and then in the third period I got my legs.”

John Tavares, with two, and Patrick Marleau also scored for the Maple Leafs (18-8-0). Mitch Marner added three assists as the Leafs went 3 for 4 on the power play against the league’s best penalty-killing unit.

Frederik Andersen made 38 saves to improve to 8-2-0 over his last 10 starts. Johnsson had two assists.

Tomas Hertl, Joe Pavelski and Melker Karlsson replied for San Jose (12-9-5), which dropped to 1-2-2 over their last five.

“I don’t think we’re close,” said Sharks centre Logan Couture. “We show spurts and signs that we’re capable (of playing with the best in the league), but we haven’t put together an effort against a top-quality team.”

Aaron Dell made 24 stops. No. 1 goalie Martin Jones got the night off following the Sharks’ 3-2 overtime loss to Buffalo on Tuesday.

Matthews suffered the shoulder injury after taking a clean hit early in the Maple Leafs’ 3-2 victory over the Jets on Oct. 27. He stormed out of the gate with ten goals and six assists through seven games this season. He was held off the score sheet in three consecutive outings before getting hurt.

Matthews made an immediate impact Wednesday. He took a pass from Marner before finding Tavares at the edge of the crease on a power play. This his 16th goal of the season at 3:38.

San Jose got one back at 10:40. Hertl banged the puck past Andersen on a Sharks’ man advantage. Leafs restored their lead just 39 seconds later on another power play when Matthews ripped his 11th upstairs short side on Dell.

Matthews said on Tuesday that he’s been “bored to death” as he recuperated. He has now scored in all four career games where he’s returned from an injury.

Erik Karlsson nearly tied it on a point shot for San Jose that hit the shaft of Andersen’s stick later in the period. The Toronto goalie had to be sharp on another man advantage with stops on Pavelski and Evander Kane.

Nazem Kadri hit the post on a breakaway for Leafs right after his penalty expired. Tavares made it 3-1 with 16.3 seconds left in the first when he finished off another brilliant pass from Marner for his 17th.

A third assist could have been credited to Leafs assistant equipment manager Bobby Hastings. He got a new stick to Marner after his broke right before the sequence that led to the goal.

“Put him on the score sheet,” Matthews joked. “That was unbelievable.”

The 39-year-old Marleau is yet to score against his former side for the Leafs. But now he has at least one goal against all 31 NHL franchises.

Pavelski got San Jose back within two when he scored his eighth on yet another power play that Andersen could only get a piece of at 4:18.

But Matthews put the game out of reach for good with his 12th at 10:59 of the third. He tipped home Johnsson’s shot before Melker Karlsson scored his second with under two minutes to go.

“As of late we’ve been playing well,” Matthews said. “It’s nice to be back and be part of it.”

Peace,

Burke

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