Timo Meier, Jonathan Dahlen and Erik Karlsson provided the rest of the offense for San Jose (4-0-0), which played for the third time in four nights, including a 2-1 victory Thursday over the Ottawa Senators.
“It was another team win,” Meier said. “We’re finding our identity.”
“I think we could be a really dominant line,” he said. “We’re still a work in progress chemistry-wise. It’s not going to happen overnight.”
After a sleepy opening period, the offensive floodgates in the second period. Couture scored his second goal of the season at 2:31 after winning an offensive zone draw when he sent home a Marc-Edouard Vlasic wraparound attempt.
Spezza, who lost the faceoff on Couture’s icebreaker, replied with his second of the year 56 seconds later on a scramble in front of Hill.
But the Sharks responded in just 17 seconds, with Meier firing a shot that found its way through Hutchinson (who got the call with Jack Campbell scheduled to start Saturday and Petr Mrazek out with a groin injury).
“There’s a spot between under thinking and overthinking,” Hutchinson said of the middle period. “You need to find that sweet spot. If you go either way in either direction, then the game becomes a little bit more challenging.”
Kase evened it up for Toronto once again at 10:24 when he blocked a shot by Tomas Hertl and raced in all alone. The Leafs winger beat Hill with a move to the backhand before crashing into referee Wes McCauley, but both got up unscathed.
The visitors took a lead for a third time at 11:55 when Karlsson blasted his second upstairs on Hutchinson, who made his first NHL start since April 4.
San Jose stretched its advantage to 4-2 just 25 seconds into the third when Dahlen took a pass from Couture and fired five-hole on Hutchinson for his third.
“That’s inexcusable,” Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said of his team, which had 72 hours off between games. “You cannot start the period like that when you’re trying to come back.”
Toronto got its second power play of the evening with eight minutes gone in the third, but couldn’t get much of anything going.
“Not on the same page, fighting it, not executing,” Keefe said of a unit that slumped badly down the stretch in 2020-21. “A lot of the same stuff we saw last season, to be honest.”
The Leafs got back within one at 13:39 when a shot by William Nylander went off Tavares in front and dribbled over the goal line for his first to make it 4-3.
Karlsson hit the post off the rush with two minutes to go with Toronto pressing at the other end. Hill then flashed the leather on a Matthews one-timer off a Tavares drop pass, but Couture iced it into the empty net with under a minute to play.
“There was not a lot to be had out there both ways,” Keefe said. “It was a pretty dull hockey game all the way through, which is exactly what San Jose was looking for.”
Friday's puck drop was early, because the Leafs were set to embark on their first trip to the U.S. since March 2020 right after the game.
Sharks: At Boston on Sunday
Maple Leafs: In Pittsburgh on Saturday.