Auston Matthews agrees that he “made a mistake” in cross-checking Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin but not that the two-game suspension he earned for it fit the crime.
The Toronto Maple Leafs forward spoke Friday for the first time since his clash with Dahlin occurred in Sunday’s Heritage Classic. The Leafs were down 4-2 late in the third period when Matthews was upended by Dahlin in the Sabres’ crease. Matthews responded by cross-checking Dahlin in the neck with his stick. He had a hearing with NHL Player Safety on Monday, resulting in the first supplemental discipline of the 24-year-old’s career.
“I was a little bit disappointed,” Matthews said. “It was a little bit more than I was expecting. I recognize as a player, I have to be in control of my stick and my intent was never to catch Dahlin up high, but I did. I made a mistake. I recognize that deserves some kind of punishment, but I thought two games was a lot.”
After Matthews and Dahlin exchanged blows, they received offsetting minor penalties. Because of where Matthews contacted Dahlin, his conduct was immediately under review by the league. The cross-check itself was out of character for Matthews, who has avoided altercations on the ice well. To date, he has amassed just 68 penalty minutes in 390 games and twice has been nominated for the Lady Byng Trophy recognizing gentlemanly conduct.
“There’s always going to be multiple opinions,” Matthews said of the NHL’s decision to suspend. “I saw it a certain way; they obviously saw it a different way. It is what it is. I’m happy to be back and excited to be playing [against Nashville] tomorrow.”
Matthews still leads the NHL with 45 goals despite missing the Leafs’ past two outings. The reigning Rocket Richard Trophy winner hasn’t had trouble scoring but has faced difficulties getting calls to go his way, drawing just eight penalties all year (for context, Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid has drawn 42).
Matthews was particularly frustrated in the game before Sunday’s Classic, when a hold in Thursday’s tilt against Arizona wasn’t called and Jakob Chychrun scored the game winner. Matthews didn’t try to excuse his outburst against Dahlin over any lack of officiating support, though, and vowed to simply get back to business.
“I think I’m pretty composed in general, so that [referee] stuff doesn’t really bother me,” he said. “My job is to go out there and play hockey, and I can only control so much. Just go out there, play hard, compete and do what I can to help the team win.”