Auston Matthews has 31 goals in his rookie season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but No. 28 was special.
It came against the Carolina Hurricanes on Feb. 19 at PNC Arena, it came on a show-stopper of a move by the Leafs forward and replays of it quickly went viral.
Canes coach Bill Peters recalled it this way Saturday after the morning skate:
“There was a lot going on there. We had a bad line change, we took a penalty on the play and he still scored. He’s impressive.”
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Canes forward Phil Di Giuseppe was trailing Matthews as he powered to the net. Di Giuseppe hooked Matthews, who fell forward but scored with a forehand-to-backhand shot that beat goalie Cam Ward.
It was the kind of moment, coming in a 4-0 Leafs victory, that could help Matthews win the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, although the competition is stiff.
Patrik Laine of Winnipeg has 32 goals and 59 points, four more points than Matthews and in six fewer games. Defenseman Zach Werenski of Columbus has played well. The Leafs’ Mitch Marner is in the Calder conversation. And the Canes like the play of forward Sebastian Aho, who scored his 19th and 20th goals Thursday to spur a 4-3 comeback win over the New York Rangers.
Canes defenseman Noah Hanifin, who played with Matthews and Werenski in the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, smiled Saturday when asked which of the Calder candidates might get his vote, if he had one.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Hanifin said. “There are so many. It’s going to be really close. Obviously, Auston has done great. Laine is doing really well. I think Zach Werenski is having a great year, as well. It’s going to be cool to see what happens.”
Matthews, the No. 1 pick in last year’s NHL Entry Draft, has gone the past four games without a point. Hanifin and the Canes want to make it five Saturday as they play the third and final game of their season series at PNC Arena, but at 6-3 and 216 pounds, Matthews has the power, the speed and the ability to finish that makes him tough to handle every time out.
“He has great hands, especially in tight with the goalies,” Hanifin said. “As a defenseman you have to have a tight gap on him throughout the whole game and not give him much.”
Hanifin said he first met Matthews when he 7 years old, when the two played for the Boston Junior Bruins. Matthews grew up in Arizona but the two were reunited in the USA Hockey program and were teammates in the 2015 World Junior Championship and 2016 World Championship.
“With his style of play he’s adjusted very well to the league,” Hanifin said. “He’s a smart player, big body, strong guy in the corners. He’s a very confident player and he’s a hard-working guy, too. He’s pretty calm and knows what he’s capable of doing.
“He has that swagger about him. I’m not shocked to see what’s he doing.”
— Cam Ward, coming off his 40-save effort against the Rangers, will be the starter for the Canes.
The lines at Saturday’s had Jordan Staal with Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, Victor Rask with Jeff Skinner and Elias Lindholm, Derek Ryan centering Valentin Zykov and Lee Stempniak, and Jay McClement at center with Joakim Nordstrom and Patrick Brown.
The defensive pairs were Jaccob Slavin-Justin Faulk, Hanifin-Brett Pesce and Klas Dahlbeck-Ryan Murphy.
Forwards Brock McGinn and Phil Di Giuseppe, who both have upper-body injuries, wore yellow, no-contact jerseys at the skate. McGinn has missed four games and Di Giuseppe two.