EDMONTON -- As pregame warmups winded down and all the Oilers had filed off the ice, one player remained alone, stickhandling around the dots and flipping pucks into an empty net.
Gradually, a roar began to swell from the multitude of fans decked out in enemy colours. By the time Auston Matthews finally skated off to the dressing room, he was showered with a hearty ovation. In Edmonton. Twenty minutes before puck drop.
“I was just warming up, to be honest. We travel really well no matter where we go,” Matthews said postgame, after scoring more than the Oilers himself. “Really in any building, I find there's a lot of blue and white. It's awesome to have that environment, especially in away buildings.
“It was a lot of fun to play in front of that energy today.”
Make that a 10-game point streak for Auston Matthews. pic.twitter.com/Ykkoxng20T
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) December 15, 2021
Yes, Leafs Nation turned out to Rogers Place in giddy droves, punctuating Jack Campbell saves with bellowing “Sooooup!” calls and drowning out “Let’s go, Oilers!” chants with voluminous rounds of “Go! Leafs! Go!”
Unfortunately for the home side, the Oilers failed to execute a solid road game, and a half-crowd-pleasing 5-1 Toronto victory extended Edmonton’s losing skid to six games.
A non-Leafs fan chucked an orange and blue sweater on the ice, disgusted by a night that saw Matthews narrow the gap on Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, held pointless by Campbell and a team committed.
“I think there's just such a focus anytime they’re on the ice to make sure that you're above them and not letting them just get free entries. Because when they do, they obviously make you pay,” Matthews said.
It was an open-net freebie that Draisaitl missed early, however, that could’ve changed the story. Particularly because Edmonton has yet to lose when scoring first.
“Very fortunate. He doesn't miss many of those,” said Campbell, recounting his reaction. “Definitely a little prayer and I think I let out a little a little scream, too: ‘Ah!’”
A dialled-in Matthews reciprocated his fans’ love late in the first period, scoring with Draisaitl in the box for roughing and extending his point streak to 10 games.
The Oilers appeared determined to claw their way back into the game in the second, firing the period’s first eight shots and pinning Toronto in its own zone.
But when the Leafs finally did muster a shot at the 8:47 mark -- a crease-crasher from Wayne Simmonds -- it went in the net. A demoralizing moment for the Oil.
“We scored timely and important goals at key times to build ourselves a lead and responded well when we needed to,” coach Sheldon Keefe said. “We did a good job of doing the things we were looking to do before the game which was to limit the space and the speed of their best people.”
A T.J. Brodie slapshot was redirected by McDavid and past Mikko Koskinen, increasing the lead to three and giving Brodie his first of the season and 50th of his career.
“He makes such smart plays with the puck. To see him get rewarded with the goal is amazing,” Campbell said. “He deserves it.”
Colton Sceviour banged in his first as an Oiler, giving Edmonton a rare dose of bottom-six production, but Morgan Rielly struck right back for Toronto, thanks to a pretty William Nylander feed.
Matthews sniped his 20th late in the third, the reward for a hard forecheck. Starting his career with six consecutive 20-goal campaigns ties Matthews with Dave Keon in the franchise record book.
“I've never played on a team with a guy who could score goals like this. This is a first. It's unbelievable to watch,” Simmonds said.
“The best part about it is he does it in so many different ways. Obviously, he's got a lethal shot, but he's been going to the net, banging in rebounds. He's got them in a ton of different ways.”
It was all over but the jersey toss.
“They’re playing great hockey,” Leaf-turned-Oiler Tyson Barrie said. “They’ve really turned it around after a tough start, and they’re one of the top teams in the league.”
With Thursday’s game in Calgary postponed due to the Flames’ COVID outbreak, the Maple Leafs will travel to Vancouver and practice for a couple of days ahead of Saturday’s matinee against the Canucks.
And on a night Oilers head coach Dave Tippett slipped into protocol, it’s certainly not lost on the Leafs that Vancouver is dealing with its own rash of positive tests.
“We just got to make sure we're staying on our P's and Q's and making sure our team is healthy. Not doing anything stupid,” Simmonds said.
“It definitely sucks. This feels like this has become the fourth wave now. I know the NFL had something like 37 guys test positive in one day [Monday], and now our league's being hit pretty hard by it. So, we got to be smart about it, and the league will make the right decision.”
Fox’s Fast 5
• Forechecking presence Zach Hyman (shoulder) missed out on his first opportunity to face his former team.
"I’m sure the D will have a little bit of a sigh of relief going back for pucks,” Matthews said pregame. “He’s an amazing guy, amazing teammate. Every single guy that has played with him probably can't say enough good things about him."
• McDavid skated one day with fellow “exceptional status” wunderkind Connor Bedard in Toronto this summer with Gary Roberts and the crew.
“First and foremost, just very impressed with his skill level, the way he shoots the puck, and it was eye-popping,” McDavid said.
Like McDavid, Bedard made Canada’s world junior squad at age 16.
“It’s an amazing thing he’s done, to make the team at such a young age. It’s exciting for everybody,” said McDavid, thinking back to his 2014 experience. “It’s your first games on the big stage. With that comes social media and lots of attention. For me and our team that year, things didn’t go that well [Canada finished fourth]. So, there's lots of negativity around that. I remember it being difficult. So, I would say to go in and have fun. And maybe stay off social media for a bit because it can be a bit negative.”
• Justin Holl is really fighting it. At what point does Keefe give veteran righty Alex Biega a look on the third pair? Is Saturday in Vancouver an option for the former Canuck?
• Jason Spezza’s suspension appeal was heard by Gary Bettman Tuesday. He’s already served four of his six games.
Victim Neal Pionk didn’t want to comment much on the hit: “It is what it is. The league made their decision.”
The Jets defenceman had more to say about his own knee that sidelined Rasmus Sandin.
“I’m not out there to hurt anybody,” Pionk told reporters in Winnipeg. “It made me sick to see him go off the ice and he’s limping off the ice. He’s a great young defenceman. I never want to cut his career short, even by a game. There’s remorse there and definitely not intent on the hit.”
• Following a big snowfall in Edmonton overnight, McDavid was asked if he gets up and shovels in the morning.
“I’m lucky enough to have a heated driveway,” McDavid replied.
Simmonds got a kick out of McDavid’s wintertime flex.
“No heated driveway. Connor’s a boss,” Simmonds smiled. “We're lucky enough to have a snowplow guy come by and help us out a little bit there. Because generally, if I'm on the road, it's just my wife at home. So, she can't be doing a driveway.”