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Zaitsev, Rielly, Hunwick score in OT win

by Toronto Maple Leafs / MapleLeafs.com

TORONTO - Auston Matthews didn't score a point in his Toronto Maple Leafs debut, but his gifts were easily apparent at the Air Canada Centre on Sunday night.

Matthews played more than 18 minutes and had two shots in Toronto's 3-2 exhibition overtime win against Montreal, displaying the elite package of skills which helped him become the first player picked No. 1 overall by the Leafs since 1985.

Matt Hunwick scored the overtime winner, joined on the scoresheet by Nikita Zaitsev and Morgan Rielly. Jhonas Enroth and Garret Sparks combined to make 24 saves.

Daniel Audette and Daniel Carr found the back of the net for Montreal, with Mike Condon making 28 stops.

Matthews wore No. 34 and looked at ease right away in his first action as a Leaf, starting on a line with 2014 first-round pick William Nylander and Zach Hyman in his debut.

The Scottsdale, Ariz. native picked the puck off Carr on the backcheck of his very first shift, springing a counter-attack for the home side. Later in the opening period Matthews took a Nylander pass in front and delivered a backhand shot from 17 feet that was turned aside by Condon.

His most impressive play came moments into the second frame. Slashing toward the net, after he raced with speed into the offensive zone, Matthews still managed to whip a shot on goal as he was held by Canadiens defenceman Mikhail Sergachev, who was whistled for a penalty on the play. He later rung a shot off the crossbar.

All throughout the night his talents were evident, albeit against a Montreal squad that dressed almost no NHL regulars.

Toronto finished with better than 60 per cent puck possession, drawing six power plays along the way.

Matthews, who did drop five-of-six faceoffs, is just the headlining talent among a wave of young Leafs expected to step into the NHL this season, with many on display Sunday.

Each of the Leafs last five first-round picks (2012-2016) suited up against the Canadiens, including Nylander, the 20-year-old who had 13 points in his first 22 NHL games, and Mitch Marner, a top pick in 2015 trying to stick in the NHL for the first time this season.

Toronto expects to get a whole lot faster in the coming year with skill to match, traits that were on display in Sunday's exhibition tilt.

"We're obviously much more talented than we were last year," head coach Mike Babcock said Sunday morning. "Last year we could check the puck back but when we got the puck we didn't know what to do with it."

Zaitsev, a 24-year-old rookie from Russia, scored the Leafs first goal when he stepped in from the point and whistled a shot past Condon's blocker. Audette, the son of long-time Buffalo Sabre Donald Audette, opened the scoring in the first frame.

Rielly put the Leafs in front 2-1 with about 12 minutes to go in the third. The 22-year-old started and then finished a Toronto rush, his shot beating Condon short side.

Carr pulled Montreal even with 17 seconds left in regulation, with Hunwick winning it with 40 seconds left in overtime. It was the third goal of the pre-season for the veteran defender and was set up by James van Riemsdyk.

Toronto got its first taste of Matthews at the recently completed World Cup of Hockey where the 19-year-old shined alongside Connor McDavid for Team North America. Looking more than ready for NHL competition, Matthews rung up a pair of goals and three points in three games.

Seven of the eight Leafs who represented Toronto at the World Cup made their pre-season debuts on Sunday: Matthews (North America), Zaitsev (Russia), Rielly (North America), Leo Komarov (Finland), Roman Polak (Czech Republic), Milan Michalek (Czech Republic) and van Riemsdyk (USA).

Enroth, who backed up Henrik Lundqvist for Sweden, was playing his second game.

Babcock was also coaching his first game for Toronto after guiding Canada to the World Cup crown. 

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