Auston Matthews Returns, Joins Tavares to Smite Sharks
Even after last season's solid 105-point finish, it's still kinda tough thinking Toronto Maple Leafs and Stanley Cup contender can be used in the same sentence.
Boston's Bruins kept them apart with a first-round playoff win.
But damn, those dudes are loaded.
There aren't too many teams where John Tavares would be a second-line center.
TO went 9-5 with the Arizona native on the shelf, and a major reason why was Tavares.
Dude's top shelf.
With Matthews finally returning to action against the San José Sharks, Tavares smoothly settled back into the second line, and it was business as usual in a 5-3 Leafs victory:
- Matthews popped a pair of goals and added an assist, while
- Tavares pitched in a couple of goals himself.
You know you're on a roll when even the stick attendant gets in on the act.
Let's look at that again:
Through 26 games, Toronto's sitting second in the Atlantic with an 18-8-0 record. Their 36 points are only one behind Tampa Bay, who has the league's best record to date.
He routinely gets to skate against the second pairing and is clearly making the most of it.
It's a long way to April -- and who knows if William Nylander will ever show up? -- but the Leafs don't look like they need to be extraordinary to keep up the pace they're setting right now. This is just them in default mode.
It's still a concept to think Leafness has gone the way of the dodo bird, but the contender label looks more and more like it fits this crew.