If Auston Matthews is an option, the Maple Leafs are never out of it.
We witnessed it again in the season-opening 6-5 shootout win by Toronto against the visiting Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday, when the Leafs superstar scored twice in the final five minutes of regulation, completing a hat trick to send the game to overtime.
A burst by Matthews through the Canadiens defence in the extra period nearly resulted in No. 34’s second four-goal game in the National Hockey League, leaving it to linemate Mitch Marner to come through with the only shootout goal.
The Leafs appeared to be headed toward a demoralizing, disappointing loss and turned it into an improbable victory. While it’s not the script that coach Sheldon Keefe wants to regularly follow, having on hand a player of Matthews’ ilk isn’t a luxury that many coaches have.
“That’s what you need from your best people, at times when it’s looking dire, the game is kind of slipping away,” Keefe said. “For Auston to come through and have a start like that, that’s good for him and really good for us.”
A couple of factors will work in Matthews’ favour in 2023-24. He has his health, as his hand/wrist issues seemingly have been put in the past, and there will be no contract talk hanging over him after he signed a four-year extension in August.
“I think that was important for him,” Leafs captain John Tavares said of Matthews getting the contract done. “I think he’s just excited to lead the way and be great and be driven and get to where we want to get to.
“He has talked a lot about that. Like any player, but especially a special one like him, when you go through experiences you grow and mature, you learn a lot.”
For Matthews, each day is guided by a strong and continual work ethic, a fact that been picked up by Leafs newcomers.
“It’s special to see him up close and in practice every day,” winger Noah Gregor said. “His work ethic is something I’ve noticed is next level. The work he puts in off the ice as well, he’s one of the first guys in the rink at practice, he is getting work done, he’s getting treatment, he’s in the gym and he’s working on his craft. You see the things he does in the game. He’s a really special player.”
The early signs indicate that Matthews should be line for his second 50-goal season in the NHL. Can he score 60 again? With his Game 1 hat trick, that might not be out of the question.
GETTING IT DOAN
Think Matthew Knies is taking full advantage of seeking advice from Shane Doan, who joined the Leafs front-office staff during the off-season?
Knies said he has been picking the brain of Doan a lot in the past several weeks, a continuation of the relationship the two forged in Phoenix, going back to Knies’ childhood.
What has been the gist of recent conversations?
“Wall play,” Knies said. “A lot of the plays along the wall are important offensively and defensively. Using my size to my advantage, using my positioning and my size to create chances for myself as well as my linemates.
“That’s what we harped on and I’m just happy that he can be here and give me that advice.”
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The line on Fraser Minten’s first NHL game: Eleven minutes 32 seconds of ice time, minus-1, one shot on goal, one missed shot, one hit, one giveaway and 3-for-5 on faceoffs. “I thought it was good,” Keefe said of the 19-year-old Minten’s debut. “First of all, that’s not a pre-season game. It’s played a lot faster, a lot more intense, there are no shifts off. I thought you could tell he was adjusting to his first exposure to that. I thought he get better as the game went on, which was really good to see.” … This tidbit courtesy of the NHL: The Leafs became the third team in NHL history to win a season-opening game after overcoming two separate multi-goal deficits. The Hartford Whalers did it in 1986 after the St. Louis Blues accomplished a similar victory in 1978 … Knies said his parents, Miroslav and Michaela, will be in town for the games against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday and the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday. Work commitments at home in Phoenix kept them from attending on Wednesday … After winger Bobby McMann cleared waivers on Wednesday, the Leafs sent him to the Toronto Marlies and recalled defenceman Simon Benoit, who took the pre-game warmup but did not play. On Thursday, the Leafs sent Benoit back to their American Hockey League affiliate … Winger Calle Jarnkrok and defenceman Jake McCabe were the only Leafs who did not register a shot on goal against Montreal, as Toronto put 42 shots on goalie Jake Allen. Matthews led the Leafs with eight, followed by William Nylander and Tyler Bertuzzi with five each. Three Leafs — Matthews, Ryan Reaves and Timothy Liljegren — each had three hits to lead Toronto in that category … In 10 career games against Minnesota, Matthews has seven goals.