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No nerves for Auston Matthews in first preseason game

No. 1 draft pick finishes with plus-2 rating to help Maple Leafs win

by David Alter / Correspondent

TORONTO -- From the moment he stepped onto the ice for warm-ups, Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews made his presence felt in his preseason debut at Air Canada Centre on Sunday.

But if you expect the No. 1 pick of the 2016 NHL Draft to be nervous, he'll never show it.

"No," Matthews responded when asked about having nerves. "I mean, it's hockey out there, so I think kind of having that World Cup experience under my belt gives you confidence going into this that you can perform at this level and make an impact."

Video: MTL@TOR: Matthews dangles past defender for shot

Matthews, who missed the start of Maple Leafs training camp to play for Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey 2016, spent the 3-2 overtime win against the Montreal Canadiens on a line with fellow young forwards William Nylander and Zach Hyman. The skill from all three players was evident. But as expected, with less experienced players, mistakes were made. Turnovers were committed, and there weren't enough shots directed at the net for Toronto's liking.

"We definitely picked it up in the second and third, the message was sent in the locker room that that first period was obviously not acceptable," said Matthews, who turned 19 on Sept. 17. "I think all in all, I think only a few things cost [us] but it's just something to build on I guess."

Two minutes into the second period, Matthews drew a holding penalty against Canadiens defenseman Mikhail Sergachev. With under five minutes to go, Matthews had his best chance to score, a wrist shot from the right side which got past goaltender Mike Condon but hit the crossbar.

"I kind of tried to show like I was going to pass and sneak one in there," Matthews said. "It was open, and I knew it was open. Saving [the goals] for the regular season, I guess."

In the third period, Matthews created some traffic in front of Condon, helping Morgan Rielly score the Maple Leafs' second goal of the game at 7:35.

Matthews finished with a plus-2 rating and two shots on goal in 18:23 of ice time. He lost five of six faceoffs.

It was Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock's preseason debut. He spent the past month leading Team Canada to victory at the World Cup.

In assessing Matthews' play, along with his linemates, the directive was clear: it wasn't good enough.

"They tried passing a lot at the net. What I saw tonight is we have a different skillset than we had last year, but we don't know how to play yet," Babcock said. "We were perimeter and light at times and we didn't want to attack the net. It felt like we were handing out points for stickhandling and not shooting and not getting on the inside."

The crowd of 18,912 was treated to a faster game than they may have witnessed last season. While the focal point will intensify on the Scottsdale, Ariz., native when the regular season begins at the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 12, Matthews will continue to play it cool.

"You've got to go out there and perform. If you're afraid to make a mistake or anything, you're going to make a mistake," Matthews said. "For myself, I'm just going to go out and play my game. If I do make a mistake, it's obviously on me, but I'm going to work hard to make sure I make as few as I can."

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