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With Matthews out, Maple Leafs use depth to defeat Wild

Brown, Carrick, Andersen step up in first game center has missed in NHL career

by Mike Zeisberger @zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

TORONTO -- It was time for an impromptu hockey trivia quiz, with Toronto Maple Leafs center Tyler Bozak playing the role of contestant.

The Maple Leafs had just defeated the Minnesota Wild 4-2 at Air Canada Centre on Wednesday, a victory that came without center Auston Matthews.

 

[RELATED: Andersen, Maple Leafs top Wild]

 

Because of an upper-body injury, Matthews missed the first game of his NHL career, ending a streak of 104 consecutive appearances (98 regular season, six postseason) since being the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.

To find the last time the Maple Leafs played without Matthews, you have to go back to April 9, 2016, the final game of the season, when they lost 5-1 to the New Jersey Devils. Only five Maple Leafs players in that game -- Bozak, William Nylander, Morgan Rielly, Leo Komarov and Jake Gardiner -- dressed for Toronto on Wednesday.

What a difference 579 days make.

"That's quite the roster upheaval," said Bozak, who has played 530 games for the Maple Leafs. "I've seen a lot of faces come and go in my time here, but that's a lot."

That was the cue to start the quiz.

With all the turnover, who scored the Maple Leafs only goal against the Devils that night, he was asked?

"Don't remember," Bozak said, shrugging his shoulders.

The answer was P.A. Parenteau. Nineteen months later, Parenteau is a right wing with Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg of the Kontinental Hockey League.

Next question.

Who led the Maple Leafs in ice time that night?

"No idea," Bozak laughed.

Video: MIN@TOR: Kadri puts Leafs on board with fluky goal

The answer was T.J. Brennan, who logged 25:37. These days you'll find Brennan playing defense for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms of the American Hockey League.

"Wow," Bozak said. "Things have changed around here a lot, haven't they."

Giddy Maple Leafs fans will be quick to tell you that the team turned around on June 24, 2016 when Matthews was the No. 1 pick at KeyBank Center in Buffalo. The numbers suggest there is credibility in that theory.

Matthews played all 82 games last season and won the Calder Trophy as the League's top rookie after finishing with 69 points (40 goals, 29 assists). Matthews leads the Maple Leafs in scoring this season with 19 points (10 goals, nine assists) in 16 games.

But with Matthews unavailable on Wednesday, the Maple Leafs featured a trait that has been more-often-than-not lacking from their roster.

"Depth," Bozak said. "We have that now."

Just across the dressing room from where Bozak was talking, Connor Brown quietly slipped off his equipment and disappeared through a back door. Brown was one of the depth players Bozak was referring to, getting a goal and an assist in the victory. Toronto also got a goal from Connor Carrick, his first of the season and just the sixth in 130 career NHL games.

"Like I said. Depth," Bozak said.

Nazem Kadri and Patrick Marleau also had goals for the Maple Leafs. Frederik Andersen stopped 35 shots and was named the game's first star.

Whether it was Brown, Kadri, Marleau, Carrick or Andersen, the Maple Leafs had plenty of players step up in the absence of Matthews. And while it was only a one-game sample size, it was an example that there is more to the Maple Leafs than just No. 34.

Video: MIN@TOR: Andersen kicks out right pad to rob Cullen

"Look, you can't replace a special talent like [Matthews]," Bozak said. "But hockey is a team sport. And no matter who goes down the rest of the team has to pick up the slack if you want to be successful."

Kadri couldn't agree more.

"We've got depth," he said. "We've got guys that can fill in and do the job.

"Obviously, he's a guy you can't replace so it's tough, but we have a lot of guys who can handle some quality minutes and I think that's what happened. We were able to get some solid scoring."

Marleau, 38, was the third star but his contributions went well beyond the scoresheet. A left wing for the majority of his 20 seasons in the NHL, he took Matthews spot at center between Zach Hyman and Nylander.

"That guy's been around forever and he understands how it works," Kadri said of Marleau. "He's a great player. He's done it for years now so that's one guy you've never got to worry about and he's going to bring it every single night.

Video: MIN@TOR: Marleau lights the lamp off Hyman's dish

"He stepped up to the plate and he was able to come through big for us."

Matthews was favoring his back in the Maple Leafs' 6-4 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Saturday, leading local talk radio cynics to suggest it was because he'd been carrying the team on it for more than a year.

To no one's surprise, coach Mike Babcock would not reveal the nature of the Matthews injury. Nor will Babcock push him to get back into the lineup.

"I don't have a clue, honest to God, I don't know," Babcock said when asked when Matthews might return. "We'll go in there [Thursday], they'll do whatever they do with him and they'll keep me abreast as it goes on.

"One thing I know is, you can't go to a guy and ask him every day, you're putting pressure on a guy. It's not like that. When they're ready to play, they're going to tell me and we're going to get him in."

Until then, the Maple Leafs will have to compensate like they did Wednesday night.

So far, so good.

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