Toronto Maple Leafs forward Alex Galchenyuk met Auston Matthews back in December as the two skated in a private session that included Galchenyuk’s father, Alex Sr., and Boris Dorozhenko, the ice hockey coach credited for much of Matthews’ development.
Two months later, Galchenyuk and Matthews became teammates.
“I definitely picked up a few things from him; It’s funny how things work out,” Galchenyuk said. “When I got traded (to Toronto) he texted me right away and we spoke about it, it was a funny moment.”
Another month passed before Galchenyuk and Matthews skated in a game together. The work that the No. 3 pick from the 2012 NHL Draft has put in with the Toronto Maple Leafs’ development staff has paid off.
“He’s really passionate about hockey, he works extremely hard, he cares a lot and he’s played great in the few games he’s been with us,” Matthews said of Galchenyuk.
Matthews’ scored the winner in the team’s 4-3 overtime comeback against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday.
Before the game, head coach Sheldon Keefe stressed that Galchenyuk was not demoted from the second line.
“There’s nothing against what he’s brought to that line, but I have wanted to get Wayne (Simmonds) in the space,” Keefe said.
With Toronto trailing 3-1 to Edmonton after 40 minutes, Keefe put Galchenyuk back up with John Tavares and William Nylander and the adjustment paid off.
First came Galchenyuk’s between-the-legs pass to Tavares in the slot that led to a goal and cut Edmonton’s lead to 3-2 at 12:21. Then he centered a pass from behind the net that went off Justin Holl before William Nylander scored to tie the game 3-3 at 16:38.
“He’s highly talented; obviously he was drafted really high for a reason,” Tavares said of Galchenyuk. “He makes great plays quickly.”
Not only did Galchenyuk help his team snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, but his presence was the catalyst to helping a line in need of an offensive boost.
Tavares had just two even-strength goals in his last 15 games before his tally on Saturday. Nylander had two goals in his last nine games.
Galchenyuk helped in getting two of Toronto’s top producers scoring again.
“I’m definitely happy with progress I’m making and definitely happy to contribute,” Galchenyuk said.
It was Galchenyuk’s first multi-point game in the NHL since Mar. 8, 2020. Then a member of the Minnesota Wild, Galchenyuk scored a goal and added an assist in a 5-4 overtime win against the Anaheim Ducks. The game ended up being the team’s last regular season game before the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything.
After a disappointing qualifying-round exit against the Vancouver Canucks, Galchenyuk signed a one-year deal worth $1.05 million with the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 28, 19 days after the free-agent window had opened.
With one goal in eight games, Galchenyuk was traded along with forward Cedric Paquette to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for forward Ryan Dzingel.
It was evident that Galchenyuk was a throw-in as part of the deal, as he was placed on waivers the following day. The Leafs acquired him after he had cleared in exchange for forward prospect Egor Korshkov and defenseman David Warsofsky.
It’s worked out well for Toronto, who acquired a highly-skilled forward at a minimal cost.
The time he spent with Matthews in December, followed by the one month working with the Leafs’ developmental staff has severed the forward well.
“You can’t ignore Galchenyuk’s contribution to both those goals,” Keefe said.
The Leafs have shuffled up their forward lines for the last few weeks as they try to find the right balance. It appears as though Galchenyuk has reclaimed his spot with Tavares and Nylander for quite some time.
He reclaimed the league lead in goals with 22. His goal in overtime came when his centering pass deflected off two Oilers and into the net.
“Not really how I drew it up, I’m gonna take that for sure, Matthews said. “It’s frustrating when the puck is not going on but I think for myself, I’m getting chances. I just tried to stay positive.”
Matthews snapped a five-game goalless drought.
The other lines
Other adjustments in the third period saw Zach Hyman move up to the top-line left wing spot with Matthews and Mitch Marner.
Joe Thornton moved down to skate with Alex Kerfoot and Jason Spezza, a line that played together for the last couple of games.
Simmonds finished the night with Pierre Engvall (he scored the first goal of the game) and Ilya Mikheyev.
Campbell remains perfect this season
Statistically, it was a great game for Jack Campbell, but the goaltender helped keep his team in it and he improved to 6-0-0 this season.
“I’m not gonna sugarcoat it, I just didn’t have it tonight. Didn’t like my game one bit,” Campbell said. “What a really great team does is they pick guys up and they picked me up tonight and I’m really, really proud of the boys.”
Apart from Darnell Nurse’s goal that made it 1-1 in the second period, it was hard to fault Campbell for the other goals. He finished the night with 16 saves on 19 shots.
Power Play woes
The Leafs went 0-for-2 on the power-play and are now just 1-for-22 in their last ten games.
Despite coming up short, his coach liked the chances they had
“I think if it looks like that consistently, I think we would more than happy with that,” Keefe said.