TORONTO – Auston Matthews does not agree he deserved a two-game suspension for cross-checking Buffalo Sabres defenceman Rasmus Dahlin in the neck.
“I was a little bit disappointed. A little bit more than I was expecting,” Matthews told reporters Friday, after serving his first NHL suspension.
“I recognize, as a player, I gotta be in control of my stick. My intent was never to catch Dahlin up high. But I did. I made a mistake. I recognize that deserves some sort of punishment. I just thought two games was a lot.”
Uncharacteristic of the two-time Lady Byng finalist, Matthews reached a boiling point late in Sunday’s 5-2 loss to Buffalo during the Heritage Classic. A net-front positional battle with fellow first-overall draft pick Dahlin escalated and culminated with Matthews delivering a forceful cross-check directly to Dahlin’s neck.
Despite Matthews’ squeaky clean record and Dahlin avoiding injury, the superstar was dinged for two games and $116,402.50 in salary.
Matthews had no interest in diving into details of Monday’s hearing with the department of player safety.
“There’s always going to be two opinions,” he said. “I saw it a certain way. Obviously, they saw it a different way.”
Despite serving his two-game suspension this week and missing three games at the beginning of the season, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ top centre is still on pace to defend his Rocket Richard Trophy with a 61-goal campaign.
Matthews will take a five-goal cushion over Leon Draisaitl and Chris Kreider in the goal-scoring race into Nashville on Saturday.
The star’s teammates were equally frustrated by his ban, but won “two really complete games” (Matthews’ words) in his absence, defeating Dallas and Carolina at home this week.
"We're disappointed. We don't want him to miss any games or think he should,” said captain John Tavares. “There's no intent from his end. He’s just competing hard, and just something unfortunate happened.”
Notably, the Maple Leafs improved to 27-14-2 all-time without Matthews in the lineup.
The team’s MVP spent the week practising and working out with the Maple Leafs development staff to stay sharp.
“I’m happy to be back. It’s been a long week, but I’m happy to be playing tomorrow,” Matthews said. “It’s tough. You’re playing every other night, then you sit for almost a full week.
“There’s nothing like playing games and getting in there. I sense there will be a little rust.”
The Maple Leafs will enter Saturday’s game in Nashville one point back of the Tampa Bay Lightning for second seed in the Atlantic Division. Matthews’ return also marks the club’s final game before Monday’s trade deadline.
“It’s always a weird time. You never know what to expect,” Matthews said. “Everyone here is really confident in our group.
“These challenges make you better off in the long run.”