Auston Matthews shows hardest working Leaf love with awesome nickname

Let the good times roll! The replacement Leafs D-Core has inspired three straight wins, including two interdivisional games and a HNIC matchup with a salty Vancouver fanbase. To further the “good times” along, Auston Matthews has donned a terrific nickname on the team workhorse.

Another game and another massive win for the Leafs, this time over the Vancouver Canucks, widening their gap on Florida to five points as the season rapidly winds down toward the playoffs. Leading the way for the Leafs, or at least chipping in more than he should be accounted for is Zach Hyman, or…

With an empty-net goal to seal the win on Saturday, Zach Hyman moved to 21 goals, tying his highest seasonal total set last year, in 24 fewer games played. His spot on Matthews and Marner’s line has surely helped him secure these goals, but his grinding playstyle has really enabled him to put the puck in the net at an un-Hyman like pace this season.

The nickname is gold, though. “The Sidney Crosby of 6-on-5” just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? It’s fitting, though, as Hyman never cheats his team for effort ever, but puts the jets on that much more when the sight of an empty net opens up.

From (reportedly) asking for an upgrade on Hyman as a winger, to embracing him to create space and finish chances, Matthews owes a lot to Hyman for grinding out the forecheck for him on every shift. Matthews has adopted some grit in his game, possibly by osmosis from Hyman, and it’s showing in his Richard-esque season.

Good nicknames, good results, overcoming adversity, and deadset on the playoffs. The Leafs are still marauding forward, and the gelling of the team through the injury crisis they’ve had is nothing but purely positive, led, of course, by “the Sidney Crosby of 6-on-5.”

Good isn’t good enough for the Leafs in a ridiculous Eastern Conference

Have you seen the Eastern Conference standings recently? It’s completely fucked; the Leafs are a better-than-average team that was underperforming and they are logjammed out of a playoff spot. Good needs to be exceptional from here on out.

For those that haven’t checked, the Leafs sit tenth in the Eastern Conference with 34 points. That places them one point behind Florida (Panthers also have two games in hand) and two points behind Buffalo for the non-Boston reserved spot (46 points) atop the Atlantic Division.

If the Leafs fail to make it in the divisional race, you can pretty much forget about a wildcard berth. The Metropolitan Division is so competitive and so good that Pittsburg and Carolina have the 34 point Leafs (and Habs) on the outside looking in with their lofty 38 and 39 point totals.

This means the Leafs can’t just be good in order to get into the playoffs. As mentioned, the division is still very much up for grabs, however good needs to be exceptional in order for them to take the reins on a postseason position, and no, it isn’t too early in the season to be talking about this.

There are two really important aspects to the recent new-look Leafs that should help them along. Firstly, the Buds are 6-4 under Sheldon Keefe. This isn’t great, however, it is a bit of progression from the final ten games of the Babcock era where the team put up a 3-7 record including a six-game losing streak.

The other aspect that is going to help pull the Leafs to the next level of competitive play is that both the Matthews line and Tavares line are producing simultaneously, two games in a row. Against St. Louis, Matthews netted twice while Pontus Aberg and Nylander both tallied assists, and Mitch Marner had two assists to go along with two Zach Hyman goals. Again, against Vancouver Matthews scored his 19th of the season, as Tavares grabbed two goals, Hyman one, and Marner two assists again.

If the Leafs do build on their current two-win streak and get some momentum going their way, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that they are a team that can step up and make the playoffs. It would actually be a welcomed change, seeing as last season they started strong and faded, eventually limping into the playoffs.

Time for the big guns to keep it on the tracks and earn those big juicy contracts! The bottom-six has held up their end of the bargain so far this season and has helped keep the Leafs treading water during this highly intense season thus far, hopefully, the Keefe change and current momentum can be accelerants to the Leafs season.

Everything goes right in Sheldon Keefe’s NHL debut

Talk about an immediate impact. The Leafs looked relaxed, motivated, happy, and most importantly, like themselves in Sheldon Keefe’s NHL debut. Not to piss on his proverbial grave or anything, but the Leafs never played like this under Babcock.

Relaxed

Did you see how Tyson Barrie and the rest of the defense jumped up in the play and impacted the game playing to their strengths? Looked pretty good, didn’t it? It’s exactly what Leafs Nation has been begging for – the team playing to their strengths. For all the good Mike Babcock did as Leafs coach, god damn was he frustrating when he slammed round peg players into his square hole systems.

In reality, there isn’t much impact a coach can have on a team long term in just 24 hours on duty. That being said, the impact Keefe has had is in embracing the skill set of his players and deploying them in a matter that best suits the team’s natural play style.

Motivated

Tyson Barrie – gets his first goal for the Leafs. Pierre Engvall – gets his first NHL goal. Auston Matthews – scores on the road and in front of his home town. The motivation for the Leafs’ three goalscorers was extremely obvious, but Keefe put them all in a position to harness that motivation and capitalize on it.

Barrie and the rest of the D were permitted to jump up in the play, and guess what? The forwards covered back on pinches and stretches in the offensive zone by Barrie and co., allowing for the skilled defenders to play to their skills. It worked for Barrie’s goal and he also got playtime beside Morgan Rielly on the top unit.

Engvall; big body, great hands, good shot, silky skater. Deployed on the PK and his hunger to make an impact in the NHL for his former coach resulted in a shorthanded breakaway and goal. Who woulda thought? Already love his guy.

Auston Matthews (this one is simple): He didn’t have anyone barking down his back; he was allowed to play his dynamic, net hunting style of hockey.

Happy and like themselves

Smiles, smiles, and more smiles. Engvall was smiling, Matthews couldn’t get the grin off his face, Barrie was ear to ear and Sheldon Keefe showed. emotion. behind. the. bench. What a foreign concept from the Leafs.

This team is skilled, this team is fast, this team is exciting, and this team is a hell of a lot of fun to watch when they play hockey the way they are constructed to. It is far too early to crown Keefe as the savior of this Leafs team, but if anything can be taken from this first glimpse into him as coach, less is more with a team that is as skilled as this.

COACHING MASTERCLASS BY MIKE BABCOCK VS WASHINGTON

Four games too late, Mike Babcock has clued in to how his team should actually be constructed. To no surprise to anyone, he then fucked up deploying them.

Why does it always seem like one step forward, two steps backward for Mike Babcock and how he ices his team? And why does that one step forward always seem like common sense that a $6.25m coach shouldn’t need time or media pressure to figure out? Ah, such is life with Mike Babcock, who yet again showed us this pattern against Washington.

The step forward

Kasperi Kapanen is a right-winger. That’s it, that’s the talking point. Shoe-horned into the first line leftwing position, Kapanen had struggled mightily this season, that is until he was moved down the ice to flank Kerfoot and Mikheyev on his natural right side. Kapanen is a fast skating, run-and-gun shooter and doesn’t fit the Hyman role what so ever, so why did this take so long to remedy?

Call it ignorance or bravado, but Babcock doesn’t like to be wrong and playing Kapanen off-wing was so obviously wrong. He would flip sides of the ice at any chance he got and the chemistry lost on the line nullified one of the most electric offensive units (on paper) to start the year. Trevor Moore, who was bumped up to this position, fits the Hyman build way better and has looked more natural in that spot in a game and a half.

Against Washington, Moore and Kapanen connected for a shorthanded goal, capitalizing on their special teams play together. Later in the first period, Kapanen’s line again scored with him finding Mikheyev in the seam who netted a breakaway goal. Crisis over, the third line can exist without Moore. Changing these players as Babcock did and then stuck to against Washington is a positive and one the team could build on moving forward.

The mile backward

Imagine all of the positive tweaks this team has undergone lasting more than one or two games and compiling into a true Stanley Cup winning team? That would be the dream, and yes this apparently is just a dream because Babcock giveth and Babcock taketh away.

The net is empty, you’re playing a potential wildcard team in the playoffs, you have a chance to go three games unbeaten and you have the chance to win what some would view as a statement game on a back-to-back. What is the next logical move? Bench Auston Matthews for almost the entirety of the final two minutes when you have an extra attacker on the ice. Of course.

All offseason Leafs Nation groveled for Matthews’ ice time to go up this year. He played a shockingly low amount in the playoffs and if this team is going to grow, that needed to change. Thus far this season Matthew’s is up just under a minute per game compared to last season, as he sits at 18:53 TOI, but this is a far cry from McDavid’s avg. 22:30 a night, or Jack Eichel’s 21:16, or even Barkov’s 22:25 TOI; why isn’tย our dominant center given more of a look?

He netted the game-tying goal against Montreal with the goalie pulled and is the most talented player on this team. He’s also a fixture on the first PP unit, so why was he not on the ice to capitalize on the man advantage? It’s clear Babcock has a style of play he wants to imprint upon his players but at what cost?

In case of emergency hammer “the Money Line”

The Maple Leafs officially have a new line to boast. Not since the skyline of Ponikarovsky – Antropov – Nieuwendyk and the introduction of “the skyline” has there been a solid unit name… until now.

Before “the Skyline”, which was given to Ponikarovsky – Antropov – Nieuwendyk because they were all above 6′ tall, has there been a nicknamed line for the Leafs. Before them, “The Hound Line” was made up of Wendel Clark – Russ Courtnall – Gary Leeman and given this name due to their grinding play style as well as their history playing with the Notre Dame Hounds.

Flash forward to now and the Leafs have a new line nickname… well, kind of. Against the Minnesota Wild last night, we saw something exciting happen, a glitch in the Matrix even. A broken line change left Matthews on the ice with John Tavares and Mitch Marner. What ensued was a pretty passing play and a goal seconds after the trio was united.

Sure, it wasn’t on purpose but the offensive excellence (despite some slow starts) on the ice was undeniable and proved to be impactful, too. It probably pissed off Babcock to no end that Trevor Moore, Tavares and Marner’s new LW, wasn’t able to make the ice but there may be a new tactic born out of this mistake.

I present to you… “The Money Line”. Not only a gambler’s risk, “the Money Line” is an appropriate nickname for the three-man unit whose salary cap hit equals $33.527 million dollars. Mike Babcock’s emergency offensive lifeline.

Don’t expect to see this unit link up often, but when an offensive spark is needed, Mike Babcock has a pretty solid trump card in his pocket: deploy “the Money Line” and watch the goals pour in. It’s not a bad idea to have an emergency back up play and Babcock certainly has that in this expensive but oh so talented line.

Please send all cash endorsements and claims to the Rival Sports for the creation of this awesome nickname.

The best of Leafs Twitter following the 4-2 Wild walloping

The Leafs have strung together two wins in a row now and are looking to keep the momentum going after handling the Minnesota Wild easily on Tuesday night. Here are the highlights from Leafs Twitter.

Morgan’s historic night! Morgan Rielly chased down Rick Vaive with his four-assist period, tying the most assists in a single frame in leafs history. I looked it up, he was four assists away from the most in NHL history (8) which was done four times, three of those by Wayne Gretzky.

Mike Babcock made a change to his lines midgame! Annnnnnd, it wasn’t moving Nylander to the third line center position! It’s a massive move because it shows an old dog can learn new tricks with Kasperi Kapanen returning (and exploding) to the right wing with Trevor Moore player LW beside Tavares and Marner. A stunning turn of events proved the fans were actually right. Congrats, us.

Auston Matthews was all around the net in the first period but had nothing to show for it. He eventually broke through when he, Marner, and Tavares all ended up on the ice for what I would like to call, “the Money Line”. A drop back pass – > a slap pass -> a tip – > a goal. This goal meant 5-on-5 scoring for Marner and another drop in the goal bucket for Matthews in a ridiculous October.

You just knew as soon as the pregame breakdown brought up Jerry Mayhew’s NHL debut something good was going to happen for the kid. Not only was he allowed to take the ceremonial first lap of his NHL career in the hockey Mecca of Toronto, Mayhew, of course, bagged his first NHL goal after Anderson kept the Wild off the scoresheet for the better part of two periods. Need to set a record, break a slump, or get your first goal/win/shutout? Come to Toronto! …I feel ya, Marlanderthews.

To close it out, Morgan Rielly took home the Raptors game ball for his four-assist performance on the night. He played really well in this game defensively and provided much more beyond his four helpers. He proved last season that he can be a top offensive defenseman in the league, tonight he showed he can also reign in the defensive side of his game which has been direly needed.

With much more going on, and a lot more crude commentary on the Leafs slapping the Wild, let this be a jumping-off point for anyone not heavily invested in Leafs Twitter. Sure, it’s usually a vile site but when the Leafs are winning no one’s upset!

Why the Leafs new-look power play will be historic in 2019/20

Players gone and new coaches brought in. To say the Leafs special teams needed extra work to get it right this season would be an understatement, but so far so good for the new-look Leafs power play.

It’s a lot more complicated than Steve Dangle summed up in his most recent YouTube video on the topic. Sure, the Leafs “just switched” Matthews and Marner in the diamond PP set up, but there is more going on in the new set up for the Leafs overpowered special team unit.

To start from the top, the Leafs have revamped their top power play unit for the season. Last year, Morgan Rielly patrolled the blueline as the high man, Auston Matthews was anchored on the left-wing as the one-time option, Nazem Kadri was the bumper man in the middle, John Tavares was the screen/tip man in close, and Mitch Marner operated the rightwing but also roamed as the free playmaker.

This year the set up is similar with a few tweaks that are proving bigger than the sum of their parts. Matthews and Marner have swapped wings, Tavares is now the bumper man in the high slot, and Andreas Johnsson is in the crease taking Tavares’ previous position and filling Kadri’s roster gap.

The first three games have seen Matthews notch two goals, Marner one, and Nylander one on the second unit. Both of Matthews’ goals have come on ridiculous releases that saw Anderson and Korpisalo look helpless when feigning the ability to stop them. Against the Senators, a recovered offensive zone draw freed Marner to no-look spin pass to Matthews on the rightwing. His offhandedness cut down on time between pass and shot, handcuffing the goalie further.

Matthews’ second PP goal of the season came against Columbus, moments after scuffing two chances from the leftwing. Once flipped back to his inverted side, Matthews took the feed from Rielly and placed a wicked wrist shot off the back bar of the net. Again, the inside angle from his left shot gave him the leverage and release point to score both goals.

Marner and Tavares also have new roles in the team. Marner is still the roaming wide man, but he has a responsibility to shoot more often now on the leftwing. His goal was created by working with newly positioned Tavares in the high slot on a one-two pass and shoot play. Giving the puck to Tavares, a fine shooter himself, forced Korpisalo to commit to the pass. When it was returned to Marner the net was open for the one-timer goal.

The Leafs new power play has developed into a three-headed monster instead of a one-dimensional shooting set up. Don’t get it twisted, the primary option is still to have Matthews unleash his shot, but getting Tavares into a more dangerous shooting area and inverting Marner as well forces opposition penalty kill lines to spread coverage to try and limit all three shots.

Johnsson is more or less a body to screen shots and mix it up in the crease. He is extremely replaceable in this role with Ilya Mikheyev a likely option considering his size and hands in close. Rielly, on the other hand, is the quarterback and mastermind on the top unit. Barrie offers another option for this position but there is no need to take Rielly off the top unit due to his chemistry with his linemates and ability to chip in offensively as good as any of his teammates.

Skill tends to trump the shot in modern-day NHL hockey, but the Leafs commitment to setting up a mid-zone trio of lethal shooters in Matthews, Tavares, and Marner will yield unheard of power play tallies this season.

 

Five things we learned from the Leafs season opening win!

The Leafs christened the NHL season with an eventually dominant win over the lowly Ottawa Senators. Here are five things we learned from the opening game of the season.

John Tavares is our Captain

Speculation was high and varied regarding the 25th captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but all signs pointed to John Tavares to wear the C by puck drop to start the season. The Leafs did name three alternate captains, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and Morgan Rielly, to support him which is a positive as well. He has the media training, he has the experience, and he’s a well respected winning player. No arguments from the majority of the fans or the players on this one.

The Leafs will outscore their problems again

Problems? What problems? Well, the high-risk, run-and-gun style offense the Leafs play will undoubtedly get them into some defensive troubles and we saw that against the Sens last night. Broken defensive zone play and poor coverage on extended D-zone time meant the Leafs were exposed in certain areas. The resolution to this, outside of drilling the defensemen in practice, is scoring five goals. The Leafs are going to do this a lot and it’s going to cover up a lot of inadequacies on the back end.

Leafs rookies impress in opening games

Three rookies started for the Leafs and all three popped up on the scoresheet with Ilya Mikheyev racking up a goal and an assist, Sandin grabbing an assist, and Timashov also getting an apple. All three looked good, with Mikheyev stealing the show out of the crop with his finish on a ridiculous Tyson Barrie feed. Timashov was shaky but made the most out of his eight minutes, and Sandin was the better of his bottom pairing unit.

Marner was doing Marner things

No one seemed to think “10.493 million is an overpay” when Mitch Marner recovered the draw, ripped a spin-o-rama no-look pass to Matthews for the top corner slapshot snipe, did they? Marner got the most money out of the summer RFAs and it’s pretty clear that if he pulls the exciting plays like he did last night no one is really going to care that he didn’t take a cheap bridge or give a hometown discount to the Leafs.

Auston Matthew – Captain of Attack

I really, really wanted the Leafs to name Matthew the captain after leaking misinformation to the media about John Tavares. It would have been perfect because Brian Burke would have looked like more of an idiot than he usually does, and it feeds the hungry Matthews to take his game to another level. He wore the A last night, but his record-setting season-opening scoring stole the show. Two goals netted made it four consecutive seasons with Matthews scoring in the opener totaling nine goals over that period. He may be an alternate, but he’s the captain of the Leafs attack.

Captain Conspiracy: Are the Toronto Maple Leafs leaking information to the media?

Anytime Brian Burke has a scoop you should probably take it with a grain of salt. In regard to the Leafs captaincy, however, he may be right this time.

Self-hating would be appropriate to describe myself as I write that Brian Burke may have something right about an NHL scoop. Yes, I’m potentially crediting the same man who vehemently stood by the statement that the Leafs are in “cap hell” and can’t sign Nylander, Matthews, and Marner.

Fast forward to now and Burke was clearly wrong on the cap situation, but I genuinely do think he’s right about John Tavares being the next captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Not based on his merit as an NHL “inside” but rather because the Leafs know that he’ll fire his mouth off immediately with any news he gets.

Why Tavares?

The easy answer is that Tavares isn’t Auston Matthews. Is it so hard to believe that the Leafs were preparing to have Matthews be the next captain but the recent disorderly conduct charge caused them to pivot from that plan? I suggest no, if for no other reason than Matthews didn’t tell the team immediately after the incident happened.

The Leafs need a benign, ‘stay-the-right-thing’ kind of guy to be the face of the team, one with exceptional talent to match his media perfection. Fortunately for the team they have three candidates that perfectly fill this, however, Matthews has obviously dragged his reputation here and consequentially dropped the “leads by example off the ice” quality, too, forcing the late audible.

Using the Media as a Tool

Rather than be frustrated that the media is largely full of tools, Kyle Dubas and Co. could be using the mediaย as aย tool in regard to the Leafs captaincy. By leaking that John Tavares is the next captain, that the decision was made a while ago, and that his successor was also a part of the decision, the Leafs get out from under the idea that Matthews charge changed their team direction.

The story is completely controlled by the Leafs in this situation and it allows them to cool the story of Matthews blowing his chance at being the Leafs captain due to drunken stupidity. By adding in the successor clause the door also remains open for Matthews donning the C eventually.

The precedent for media tactics was seemingly set in the William Nylander/Mitch Marner contract negotiations. Under Lou Lamoriello, leaks were non-existent in the media. Lou operated in a cone of silence with the unvoiced threat of ending up like Ralph Cifaretto policing his inner circle. With Dubas at the wheel, contract specifics were leaked in both negotiations, eventually accelerating talks and leading to eventual deals.

I respect the 21st Century tactics by Dubas and strongly believe the likeliness that he and his team are leaking information is much more probable than Brian Burke getting a scoop correct. Sadly, it makes from a business perspective as well. Matthews was the perfect choice to be captain but the PR nightmare would be unbearable in the immediate future. Lucky enough, Tavares or Reilly are perfect candidates to hold the position on an interim term.

ICYMI: Auston Matthews killed a man in preseason game

Preseason is preseason. Players are getting used to their new linemates, reacquainting themselves with old linemates, and getting up their fitness levels for the new season ahead. This fact makes the Auston Matthews homicide all the more gruesome.

Ottawa Senators fans who seem to think the imaginary points they’ve collected in the preseason will carry over into their likely basement-dwelling season, we put in their place last night despite winning the shinny match with the Leafs.

Why? Because Auston Matthews absolutely buried… *checks notes, goes on HockeyDB.com* Scott Sabourin on the ice last night. In a graphic scene shown below, Matthews effectively stole the soul out of this career AHLer, making him go viral for all the wrong reasons.

Thoughts and prayers.

After a few shady plays by *checks notes again* Sabourin, including a slew foot on Morgan Rielly, Auston Matthews, the Leafs all but announced captain, stepped up to see who the Slap Shot extra was who was trying to make an impact. Much like I did, Matthews had to check the back of 49’s jersey to actually see who this guy’s name, and it didn’t seem like it rung a bell.

If you want to see fewer and fewer NHL players take the risk of playing in preseason games you can thank the collective efforts of grocery sticks like Sabourin who think injuring league stars like Morgan Rielly will earn themselves a career in the show.

Matthews and his slick bandito moustache won’t have any issues racking up kills this season, but an early preseason homicide sets the tone for the season. Rest in peace, Sabourin, Leafs Nation hopes whatever affiliate league that needs a little sandpaper on their bottom unit enjoys the energy you bring to the game.

Oh, and Matthews went off for two goals in the game including a batted in rebound and a post-and-in snipe on the PP. Kids off to a hot start.