If you had any low expectations heading into this season, then last night’s Toronto Maple Leafs game should quickly change your mind.
Auston Matthews became the first player in NHL history to score four goals in his NHL debut. It took Alex Ovechkin 202 games to score his first four-goal game and it took Wayne Gretzky 136 games. It only took Matthews one game! On top of that, Matthews is currently leading the league in goals and points. I know it’s early in the season, but let’s enjoy this moment.
Although the result could’ve been different, the Leafs lost 5-4 in overtime to the Ottawa Senators, the optimism surrounding this young Leafs squad is there for all to see.
Matthews was a one-man show last night, displaying all the skills and qualities that made him the number one overall pick in June. He’s the complete package. He has the size, speed, vision and skill that’ll make him an elite player for years to come in the NHL.
If you watched the game last night, you witnessed a new era of change in Leafs Nation. Here is a recap of Auston Matthews’ night to remember.
With William Nylander coming over the offensive blueline, he makes a nice move around two opposing players to throw them off while trying to find an open man to make a play. Nylander manages to spot Matthews in front, but Matthews couldn’t handle the puck and doesn’t get a great shot off. Nylander is there to get a shot on net. Zach Hyman is able to pick up the rebound and skate around the net to find Matthews in front. Matthews is there to put the puck into the empty net while Senators goalie Craig Anderson is trying to make a desperation save.
It’s amazing how this young line has formed such tremendous chemistry. It has carried over from the pre-season to a remarkable performance in Ottawa. Nylander, Hyman and Matthews all converged in front of the net putting a great amount of net front presence on the Sens. The Senators were scrambling trying to retrieve the puck. However, the Leafs were just too quick. All five Senators players were below the hash marks, while the three Leafs forwards were creating their chance. All the focus was on Hyman, which gave Matthews the opportunity to get open for the puck. Bobby Ryan and Zach Smith were a little too late to tie him up and Matthews scored his first as a Leaf.
I’m still in shock and awe that this happened. This goal will be dubbed as “The Auston Matthews Matinee”.
With the puck at the offensive blueline, Matthews makes a nice quick move to get the puck by Mark Stone and another to get by Mike Hoffman in the neutral zone. Hoffman appears to have redeemed himself by throwing Matthews off the puck for a second as the puck bounces to Erik Karlsson.
With Karlsson slowed to halt, Matthews has enough speed to steal the puck off Karlsson and skates right by him. With a flat-footed Karlsson, Matthews is already gone to get a shot on Anderson on a bad angle. Matthews’ shot manages to get by Anderson for his second of the game.
This goal shows his ability to not give up on the play. Before the game started, his father was a part of a great feature and he describes the way that Matthews never gives up on the play. His words in that feature basically describes the way that goal was scored. Even when he lost control of the puck, Matthews stayed with Karlsson to make a little stick lift and regain control of the puck.
It was like taking candy from baby, as Matthews embarrassed a Norris Trophy winner.
Hat trick for Auston Matthews. First NHL game. Unreal. pic.twitter.com/FU2tkrHdBf
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) 13 October 2016
This goal is similar to when Matthews and Morgan Rielly teamed up for a goal against Sweden at the World Cup of Hockey.
Rielly comes streaking through the neutral zone and crosses the offensive blueline. Three Senators players converge on Rielly to try and keep him to the outside. The biggest mistake, Dion Phaneuf seemed to have forgot that Auston Matthews was on the ice.
Four Senators are caught looking at Rielly, which causes Matthews to ease up for a pass while the players are still focused on Rielly. Rielly makes a smooth pass to Matthews and he’s able to net his hat-trick goal.
While the focus was on Matthews because it was his hat-trick goal, we shouldn’t forget the patience and vision from Rielly to spot him in front. Matthews was able to create space for himself to put himself in a good position in order to receive the pass. During the World Cup, Rielly showed great glimpses of being an excellent two-way defender. Here, he showed great offensive awareness to join the rush and find Matthews in the slot.
Auston Matthews becomes first player ever with 4 goals in NHL debut pic.twitter.com/J4priRbpAY
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) 13 October 2016
With 7.2 seconds left in the second period, Matthews picks up a loose puck that was flipped up into the neutral zone while having Nylander on his wing. The pass to Nylander allows Matthews to generate speed and head towards the net. Nylander makes a beautiful saucer pass over Chris Wideman’s stick, allowing Matthews to make NHL history. It was a simple tip that Matthews didn’t even have to reach that far to get the puck on net.
Once again, this play shows the excellent chemistry that this line possesses. They read the play so well and they know where the other player is going to be. This is excellent vision by Nylander to make the perfect pass so that Matthews is in a great spot to receive the pass and tip it by Anderson.
While all eyes were on Matthews, Nylander and even Hyman, we can’t forget the impact that Mitch Marner had.
Marner had 6 shots on goal, but had three or four quality scoring chances in the first period alone including two breakaways. If it’s any indication, he was the driving force on that line with James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak. The speed and hands makes him very elusive, which gives everybody else on the ice time and space to get open. Marner could’ve easily had a hat trick of his own. Imagine if that happened? Leafs Nation would be in frenzy.
Nylander was also lost in the talk, as he was a key factor on two of Matthews’ four goals. He kept the play alive on the first goal and a great pass to find Matthews on the fourth. Mike Babcock has nothing to worry about this line as they played a smart game and read each other perfectly.
Going back to the man of the night for a second. Even though Matthews had a great night, he wasn’t shy about his play on the game-winning goal, taking the blame as he was late trying to reach Kyle Turris. This shows his ability to take ownership and responsibility. He knew he made a mistake and he has to learn from that. In the end it was one play that could’ve turned everything around and Matthews could’ve had a win to go along with his record-breaking night.
Overall it was an excellent and memorable night for Matthews. Congratulations Auston. This is just the beginning of a marvelous career.
h/t tip Sportsnet Canada and Pete Blackburn for the clips used in this article.