TORONTO — With nine days remaining before the regular season starts, the Toronto Maple Leafs seem to be clicking at a good time.
Given the showing from the team's sophomore forwards on Monday night, it's looking like offence will continue to be one of their biggest strengths.
Auston Matthews recorded a hat trick and added an assist and William Nylander had a goal and two assists as the Toronto defeated the Montreal Canadiens 5-1.
"Tonight was one of our nights where as a line we worked pretty well," Matthews said. "It's always a good sign going into the tail end of a pre-season, you want to be peaking towards when the regular season starts."
Matthews scored his first goal of the game at 0:47 of the first period. His wrist shot from just inside the blue line went over the right shoulder of Canadiens (0-5-0) goaltender Al Montoya for a 1-0 lead.
He put the Leafs (3-2-0) ahead 2-0 at 4:56, batting down the rebound off a high shot from Nylander into an open side of the net.
The Scottsdale, Ariz., native then scored his third goal in the third period, shooting the puck between the legs of Montoya at 3:46 off a breakaway.
Toronto and Montreal both iced rosters that closely resembled what could be their opening night lineups when the regular season gets underway next week.
"Why not have similar type teams so you can evaluate the teams?" said Leafs coach Mike Babcock prior to the game.
Matthews led the Leafs in goals (40) and points (69) in his rookie season with Toronto. He won the Calder Trophy in 2017, given to the NHL's top rookie. Nylander, Matthews' linemate for much of last season, led the team in assists last year (39).
Both of them were on the ice for three of Toronto's five goals.
Nylander scored at 6:03 of the third period to give Toronto a 5-1 lead and had the primary assist on two of Matthews' goals.
Both Nylander and Matthews started last season playing on the same line together. There was instant chemistry — Matthews scored four goals in his first NHL game on Oct. 12 — but as the season went along, Nylander struggled with his defensive responsibilities and was moved around the lineup before reuniting with Matthews permanently in February.
"It's nice because you want to build chemistry and keep it there," Nylander said. "I think the more you play with each other, the better chemistry you get. Hopefully, we can stay together."
Matthews has four goals and two assists in three pre-season games, while Nylander has three goals and two assists in three exhibition matchups.
Jeff Petry scored the lone goal for Montreal while on the power play at 11:37 of the second period.
Nylander scored at 6:03 of the third period to give Toronto a 5-1 lead.
Newcomer Patrick Marleau also had a goal for Toronto while Frederik Andersen made 20 saves.
Although Toronto dominated on the scoresheet, Montreal outshot the Leafs 34-21 in front of 8,574 fans at Ricoh Coliseum.
"We got up 3-0 but to be honest, I didn't think we were that great after that," Babcock said. "Montreal worked harder than we did."
Notes: Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin missed the game with a "muscular" injury according to head coach Claude Julien. Drouin was expected to suit up for Montreal but did not make the trip to Toronto. Charlie Lindgren was scheduled to start in goal, but the team announced he was out with a lower-body injury. Jake Hildebrand dressed as Montreal's emergency backup goaltender.
David Alter, The Canadian Press