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Feb 18, 2024 12:41 pm

Blues bid to slow down high-octane Auston Matthews, Leafs

Auston Matthews

After experiencing costly defensive breakdowns in their last game, the St. Louis Blues will need to clean up their play on Monday afternoon when they host the explosive Toronto Maple Leafs.

Winners of three in a row, the Maple Leafs roll into this matinee with the Blues after thrashing the Anaheim Ducks 9-2 on Saturday.

“It’s a great effort from our team all the way around,” Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said. “It’s not often over 82 games that you get a game like this, where you sort of put it in cruise control for the second half and you’re just kind of letting the clock wind down.”

Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews has recorded a hat trick in consecutive games. He has six hat tricks this season, which is the most by an NHL player since Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux totaled six during the 1995-96 season.

“It’s obviously hard to put into words to be in the same sentence as a guy like that, so that’s all I’ll say about it,” Matthews said. “But it’s definitely pretty cool.”

The Blues are coming off a 5-2 loss at home to the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

“They came in here and did a good job,” Blues defenseman Torey Krug said. “That being said, we lacked support all over the ice. Whether it was in the D-zone breaking the puck out, or in the offensive zone, we weren’t connected. Big games like that, you just can’t do it.”

The Blues had won eight of 10 games before falling to the Predators, who are battling them for a wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

Blues interim coach Drew Bannister noted that his team sustained self-inflicted wounds in the loss.

“First goal, we turned it over,” Bannister said. “There was no reason to turn the puck over in that area of the ice. We made a bad play on the second one, but got a bad bounce, too. But I thought we forced a play into a position where we put our ‘D’ in a tough position, and the puck bounces over his stick and it’s a breakaway.”

The undermanned Maple Leafs won the previous meeting with the Blues 4-1 on Tuesday. Toronto was missing captain John Tavares and fellow forward Mitch Marner due to illness in addition to defenseman Morgan Rielly due to an NHL suspension.

Fill-in Bobby McMann recorded his first career hat trick in that game and Ilya Samsonov had to make only 14 saves to earn the victory. McMann has five goals and one assist in his past three games after notching just seven points (two goals, five assists) in his first 26 games.

“It’s been a great development for us,” Keefe said. “Once he got his chance, he’s showing that he’s not going to let this one slip. Tremendous week for him.”

Tavares is listed as day-to-day with an undisclosed injury, but Marner returned to earn five assists in Toronto’s last two games. When Toronto defenseman William Lagesson sustained an upper-body injury against the Ducks, Marner filled in on the blue line.

“It was just like he’s been playing there his whole life,” Matthews said. “He’s incredible. He does it all for us. Literally does it all. So, maybe next game he can put on the goalie gear and be backup.”

–Field Level Media

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