There’s no stopping Auston Matthews.
Not when the Maple Leafs superstar is averaging a hat trick a game to start the 2023-24 regular season.
Matthews was at it again on Saturday night, scoring three times on Minnesota Wild goaltender Filip Gustavsson in the Leafs’ 7-4 victory at Scotiabank Arena.
Matthews has nine career hat tricks in the National Hockey League, this one coming some 72 hours after he lit up the Montreal Canadiens for three in the Leafs’ season-opening win.
“You don’t expect back-to-back hat tricks, of course, but I’ve gotten somewhat comfortable and used to Auston having big nights,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “But to do so in back-to-back nights to start a season, it’s terrific. He looks like he is having lots of fun.
“I would never question Auston’s motivation and work ethic and commitment. I do think he has come in refreshed and healthy. He is focused on the big picture here. He’s looking to really drive our team.”
Some thoughts on the Leafs second victory in as many games:
MARCH OF MATTHEWS
Matthews is back to full health, and there is little, seemingly, that can get in the way of the Leafs’ goal machine.
With a four-year contract extension firmly in his back pocket, Matthews is off to the best start in his NHL career.
Two games, two hat tricks. He is the first Leaf since Wendel Clark in 1994 to record a hat trick in consecutive games, and seventh Leaf to accomplish the feat.
Six goals in his first two games? Matthews has never done that. He became just the fifth player in NHL history to score three or more goals in each of his first two games to start a season, joining Alex Ovechkin (2017-18), Cy Denneny (1917-18), Joe Malone (1917-18) and Reg Noble (1917-18).
“I think he is going to do a lot of damage on a lot of records, on a lot of Leafs records and goal-scoring achievements,” Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly said. “That (Clark mark) is another of a long list he has already achieved. He will continue to push and grow.”
In 2018, and again in 2019, Matthews scored five goals in his first three games.
After Matthews scored four goals in his first NHL game in October 2016 at Ottawa against the Senators, he didn’t score again until the Leafs’ fourth game of the season.
When Matthews scored 60 goals two seasons ago and won the Hart Trophy, his sixth goal didn’t come until his 12th game, on Nov. 12 at home against the Calgary Flames.
Matthews’ first goal on Saturday came when Mitch Marner fed him in the slot, and there was little hesitation before Matthews beat Gustavsson low on the stick side. His second came when his pass attempt from the corner went in off a Wild defender after originally being credited to John Tavares.
The third came after Marner forechecked and won a puck battle with Mats Zuccarello deep in the offensive zone. Matthews gathered the puck behind the Wild net and scooted around to beat Gustavsson with a wraparound backhand.
For Matthews, 40 goals last season was seen as a drop-off, even though he played through hand/wrist troubles. In 2023-24, he’s already making it clear that beating his career-high of 60 is not out of the question.
“I want to play at the highest level I can every night,” Matthews said. “I’m not really thinking about years in the past. It’s all about today and today’s game.
“I think the work ethic has been there both games and as a line we’re moving our feet, making sure we are taking care of each other defensively and trying to attack offensively.”
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If, for whatever reason, you have not yet seen a highlight of Wiliam Nylander’s goal in the first period, what are you waiting for?
As he hit the top of the faceoff circle to Gustavsson’s right, Nylander made a couple of moves on Joel Eriksson-Ek, leaving the Wild centre grasping as he cut in hard to the net before going to his forehand to fool Gustavsson.
For good measure, Nylander ripped a shot past Gustavsson late in the third period.
“His first goal is a world-class play,” Rielly said. “Will is one of the best players in the world, especially carrying the puck in the neutral zone, carrying the puck on the perimeter of the offensive zone. He has these skills that are almost unmatched in my opinion and lots of people’s opinion.”
Nylander is playing for a new contract. He’s going to get paid.
GET WOLL IN
Next up for the Leafs are Connor Bedard and the Chicago Blackhawks, who visit Scotiabank Arena on Monday before the Leafs head out on a five-game trip.
Joseph Woll should get the start on Monday. That’s not necessarily an indictment of Ilya Samsonov, as we would be saying the same thing had he shone in the Leafs’ first two games.
There’s little sense in letting Woll sit any longer. If he’s not in on Monday, his first start would not come until Thursday in Florida against the Panthers, at the earliest. It wouldn’t be fair to let Woll sit that long when he wants to build off a solid 2022-23 season. The Leafs have confidence in him, and he in himself. Get him in there.
The Wild’s second goal, by Matt Boldy, was a bad one on Samsonov. From what appeared to be a tough angle, Boldy went short side on Samsonov, scoring over the goalie’s right shoulder when he couldn’t hug the post properly. The fourth Wild goal, by Brandon Duhaime, wasn’t great, either.