Wednesday, 12 October 2016

On Pace For Eleventy Billion Goals

The kid had a heckuvan opening night. Auston Matthews made modern NHL history by becoming the first player in 99 years to score four goals in his first NHL game. To say he looked ready would be an understatement as Matthews was clearly the best player on the ice in tonight's game, and that's saying a lot coming from this writer and his unwavering anti-Maple Leafs stance. Matthews looks like he's going to be that superstar centerman that the Leafs have long coveted since the departure of Mats Sundin, but we need to remember that all 82 games aren't played against the Ottawa Senators. And yes, Toronto still lost the game in overtime despite Matthews' heroics.

There was a lot to like about Matthews in tonight's game. He went to the net on his first goal and took a couple of shots from Derick Brassard before finding the puck and beating Craig Anderson. His second goal was everything you want to see in a superstar as he beat three players before stripping Erik Karlsson of the puck and firing home a shot that Anderson simply has to have. He didn't have it, though, and Matthews had two goals on two shots. The key on that play is that he was strong on the puck the entire time, and simply pick-pocketed the puck from Karlsson, the 2015 Norris Trophy winner. That's confidence and skill all on one incredible play.

The third goal was all about creating a passing lane and some space for himself as he stopped up at the right hash mark - not the goal crease - when he saw Morgan Rielly head behind the net. This takes vision and a belief in your teammate that he's skating with his head up to see one's self parked in an ideal spot. As the Rielly curved around the boards towards the back of the net, the passing lane opened up, the puck was sent out to Matthews, and the Senators were fishing another milestone puck out of the back of the net on Matthews' hat trick goal.

The final goal was just a gorgeous 2-on-1 attack as Matthews dished to Nylander, Nylander watched Matthews get a step on the defender, and Nylander went tape-to-tape for Matthews who picked up his fourth goal on the night. At that point, the Toronto Matthews Leafs, er, Maple Leafs led 4-3, and there was great hope in The Centre of the Universe that a savior had been found, signed, and delivered to the Leafs faithful who had waited for so long for "the next one".

Let me be the first to say congratulations to Auston Matthews. Yes, I knew he was going to be a pretty good player having watched him at the IIHF World Championships and in the Swiss League. He simply had the moxie and the talent to do more. I also want to tell Leafs fans to pump the brakes a little bit because Auston Matthews will win neither the Rocket Richard Trophy nor the Art Ross Trophy. He has a very good shot at the Calder Trophy, but let's just remember that the Leafs will play 29 other teams - some more than once - some of which have slightly better defensive schemes than the Ottawa Senators.

It should also be noted that it was Auston Matthews' man who scored the overtime winner in tonight's game. Kyle Turris scored the winner to give Ottawa the two points, and that's who Matthews was supposed to be checking at the time of the goal. He wasn't anywhere near Turris and he was late getting to him which allowed Turris to score the winner. This defensive lapse cost the Maple Leafs a point, and it's something that Mike Babcock will address with Matthews.

That fact alone shouldn't take away from the historic night, but we shouldn't be expecting Matthews to break Gretzky's record of being the fastest player to 50 goals. By tonight's game, the extrapolation puts him at 50 goals by November 8 against Los Angeles in Toronto's 13th game of the season. I have a feeling that won't be happening nor will we see Matthews hit 50-in-50. If he scores 50 this season, that would be incredible. In fact, if he scores 50 this season, this anti-Leafs writer will purchase an authentic Auston Matthews jersey. You heard it here first, so hold me to this when Matthews hits 50 goals in November, Leafs fans.

The season is long. There are slumps, nagging injuries, defensive schemes, and a pile of other factors that will slow Matthews' goal-scoring pace this season. Teams will start to create strategies to reduce his impact just as they do for players such as Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, and Steven Stamkos. Some teams may even try to bully the kid a bit in the same way that Brandon Dubinsky goes after Sidney Crosby. He'll need to play through these roadblocks as he cements his status as superstar, but he'll have to learn how to navigate them as well. That's part of the process in becoming an elite NHL player.

So while you have a superstar in your ranks, Maple Leafs fans, don't go getting the parade floats and parade routes ready just yet. It was an impressive start for the kid tonight, and it's one that should give you hope that the complete teardown and rebuild that Shanahan and Lamoriello did is starting to bear fruit. Your team might still be a year or two away from challenging for an Atlantic Division title or a playoff spot, but hope floats in Toronto on this night. And while hope is just a four-letter word, the newest Maple Leafs centerman just had a four-goal night to announce his arrival.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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