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No Matthews, no problem: Minus NHL goal leader, Maple Leafs blank Oilers 4-0

EDMONTON —
Mitch Marner had a goal and an assist, Jack Campbell made 30 saves for his third career shutout, and the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Edmonton Oilers 4-0 on Saturday in the opener of a three-game set.

William Nylander, Jason Spezza and Zach Hyman also scored for Toronto (16-4-2), which was without NHL goal leader Auston Matthews because of a wrist injury. John Tavares added two assists as the Leafs stretched their lead atop the North Division to six points over the Oilers.

Mike Smith stopped 25 shots as Edmonton (14-9-0) saw its five-game winning streak come to an end after Toronto held Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who sit first and second in the league’s scoring race, at bay on a frustrating night for the home side in the Alberta capital.

The teams continue their series Monday and Wednesday back at Rogers Place.

Matthews tops the NHL with 18 goals in 20 games – he sat out for a second time against the Oilers in 2021 because of that wrist issue – and entered play tied for third in points with 31 points behind McDavid (40) and Draisaitl (34).

The Leafs did get some reinforcements with the return of Campbell, who missed more than a month with a leg injury suffered Jan. 24, while winger Joe Thornton (lower body) and top-4 defenceman Jake Muzzin (facial fracture) also suited up after both sat out Toronto’s last two games.

Leafs No. 1 goalie Frederik Andersen, meanwhile, remains day-to-day with a lower-body ailment that pressed third-stringer Michael Hutchison into action twice earlier this week with Campbell still working his way back.

Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe elected to put Tavares in Matthews’ spot between Marner and Thornton with the team’s best player and top centre out. The Leafs, who opened a road trip that will see them play five games in eight nights, also defeated Edmonton 4-2 in Toronto on Jan. 22 without Matthews.

After both teams had a couple of good chances to open the scoring early, the Leafs got on the board at 14:37 of the first period on the game’s first power play. Marner showed great patience circling behind Smith’s net before finding Nylander, who buried his eighth of the season. It was also the Swede’s third in two games on the heels of scoring both goals in Wednesday’s 2-1 overtime victory against the Calgary Flames, as Toronto snapped an 0-for-12 stretch on the man advantage.

Pointless in his last two games coming into Saturday, Marner then turned finisher just 1:13 later when he took a pass from Tavares in transition and fired a shot through Smith for his 10th.

Both goalies were busy before the Leafs broke through, with Campbell denying McDavid off the rush and Smith thwarting Alexander Barabanov on his doorstep in tight.

Spezza made it 3-0 at 11:15 of the second on a vintage sequence from a player nicknamed “Vintage” by teammates. The 37-year-old forward took a pass from Jimmy Vesey coming down the right side, faked a slapshot that had Smith swimming in his crease before firing his fifth shortside on the 38-year-old netminder, who entered a perfect 6-0-0 with a .944 save percentage this season.

Edmonton, which was on 11-2-0 run after starting the season 3-6-0 to get within four points of Toronto, came close to getting that one back moments later, but Draisaitl’s pass to Josh Archibald was redirected off Campbell’s crossbar by Leafs centre Alexander Kerfoot before the netminder shut the door on the follow.

The Oilers pushed midway through the third, but Campbell turned aside a point shot from Caleb Jones before Gaetan Haas failed to control the rebound.

Hyman, who missed two of the Leafs’ last four games with a foot injury, then iced by roofing his fifth upstairs on Smith at 13:34 as the visitors picked up their first shutout of the season.

Edmonton’s power play came in ranked seventh in the NHL after going 6 for 14 over its last three games, but failed to get a single opportunity as Toronto didn’t allow a man-advantage chance against for the first time since Nov. 27, 2019.

The Leafs and Oilers split their four previous meetings this season, although Toronto picked up an extra point in Edmonton’s 4-3 overtime victory on Jan. 30.

Notes: Spezza’s goal was the 952nd point of his career, tying him with Rick Tocchet for 102nd on the NHL’s all-time scoring list. … Vesey’s assist was his first point in 13 games. … The Leafs assigned winger Alex Galchenyuk, who was acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes on Feb. 15, to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 27, 2021.


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