Matthews-Marner explosion helps Jack Campbell make NHL history

Jack Campbell set a NHL record with a win in his 11th straight start of the season as the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Ottawa Senators 6-5.

TORONTO – When your record-snapping, head-turning, stick-tapping run is as endearing and as enduring as the one Jack Campbell is enjoying for the Toronto Maple Leafs, sometimes you need a little help from your friends.

“I definitely owe the boys a nice Red Lobster dinner, that’s for sure,” the Leafs starting goaltender quipped with a smile Saturday. He had just pulled five pucks out of the net and Carey Price’s name out of the record book.

“Definitely not what I expect out of myself, but thankfully we have a great team and they carried me tonight. And it was just a lot of fun.”

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These go to 11.

We’re talking about (a) the total goals scored in Toronto’s wild 6-5 lead-flipping victory over the never-quit Ottawa Senators and (b) Campbell’s historic win streak (11-0-0) to begin a season. (Price, a mere mortal, topped out at 10-0-0 in 2016-17.)

“Just nonstop cheering for him. I think everybody’s extremely happy. It’s very well deserved,” Auston Matthews beamed. And that was before he’d learned of the Admiral’s Feast with his name on it.

Everything is coming up Maple Leafs, who have earned whatever roster boost GM Kyle Dubas and cap magician Brandon Pridham can conjure up over the next 30-some hours.

The North Division leaders are riding a league-best six-game win streak and are a league-best 9-0-1 over their past 10.

Frederik Andersen’s patient recovery, William Nylander’s sudden sidelining to COVID-19 protocol, and a horrendous 5-on-4 drought — Toronto has been outscored 3-1 over their past 34 power plays — haven’t hindered their stride.

If Campbell’s streak is reason No. 1, then the dominance of Matthews and Mitch Marner is reason 1A.

Tony and Mitchy go together like surf and turf, give and go, DMX and dog noises.

All night long, from warm-ups through to the late whistles, Scotiabank Arena DJ Cale Granton spun bangers from the recently departed rapper over the loudspeakers.

So, it was fitting that Marner cued up the game’s first strike when he stopped, dropped a pass, and Matthews opened up shop with wicked wrister. Marner’s no-look, behind-the-back feed was echoed by a no-look, behind-the-back low-five in celebration. Matthews slammed that sucker too. That’s how they roll.

Marner teed up Matthews again, 32 seconds later, to help his centreman reach a fifth straight 30-goal season.

“Auston shot the puck probably as good as he has in, I don’t know, months maybe,” coach Sheldon Keefe said. “It connected today.”

Like electricity.

When the Senators surged back with three unanswered goals in Period 2, the dynamic duo threw back on their capes.

Matthews assisted on Marner’s tying goal, his 14th on the year. Then Matthews completed the hat trick — off the tape of Marner. Because of course.

Forty minutes yielded matching four-point nights for the big guns. Marner has now assisted on 19 of Matthews’ NHL-leading 31 goals. Both players rank top-seven in even-strength goals and top-three in even-strength points.

“I don’t know if my vocabulary is big enough to describe it. It’s such a treat to watch,” Campbell said. “Some of the plays they make on a nightly basis and what they bring to this team is just invaluable.

“They’re two superstars, but you’d have no idea when you talk to them outside the rink. They’re the most down-to-earth guys, and they just gel out there. They just work as a team and a pair. They’re just always thinking of the other guy and making amazing plays. We sure are lucky they’re on our team.”

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That luck extends to Keefe. With a six-point buffer as Canada’s top seed, the coach is using the stretch run to experiment with new forward lines.

On this evening, Alex Galchenyuk (two assists) was promoted to the left of Matthews and Marner, while Zach Hyman (assist, game-winning goal) helped balance out John Tavares’s unit. (That second line generated the other two Leafs strikes, and Keefe simply called them “outstanding.”)

Already confident Hyman complements Matthews-Marner, Keefe wants to discover what other options work. The promotion was also a reward for Galchenyuk’s effort.

The trial run of Galchenyuk-Matthews-Marner yielded an 8-1 advantage in high-danger chances to go with the four goals.

“There’s an extra level of urgency and intensity in each stride that Alex has taken,” Keefe said. “You pair that with the skillset that he has, and that’s why he’s been having success. I don’t think we had a great expectation that he was going to be as effective as he has been on the forecheck in creating loose pucks and getting the puck back for his linemates. That’s been just outstanding.

“When you look at the number of depth players that we’ve given opportunities to throughout the season, I don’t think anyone has really jumped off the page the way that he has… That should send a message to those that when they get their opportunity that that’s the standard.”

The standard for hockey duos is coming down to Leon Draisaitl–Connor McDavid versus Marner-Matthews. After the Leafs’ offensive explosion Saturday, the latter now shares third place in the Art Ross race with Patrick Kane (all three have 52 points).

But unlike their Edmonton rivals, Matthews and Marner are more deadly 5-on-5.

And after four years skating mostly apart, no one is arguing for them to be split onto separate lines now.

“We want to get better every single game,” Marner said. “I think we’ve done a great job just from a defensive standpoint, getting the puck out of our zone quickly, all the way to creating offensive chances. I think we’ve also done a great job of hunting pucks down on the [opponents’] rush and knocking a lot of pucks down and getting results the other way.

“Chemistry-wise, I think we’re at an all-time high.”

Like hot butter and lobster tails.

Just put it on Campbell’s tab.

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