Auston Matthews has always been able to put pucks past National Hockey League goaltenders, but his blazing hot start to the 2023-24 season might be an indication that the best is yet to come.
For only the second time in the past 100 years, a player, Matthews, scored hat tricks in the first two games of the season. Not surprisingly, the only other NHLer to do it since 1917-18 was the guy who may wind up as the NHL’s all-time goal-scoring champ, Alex Ovechkin, who turned the trick at the start of the 2017-18 season.
Matthews, who grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, an unlikely location for development as one of the world’s best hockey players, needed only 11 shots on goal in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ first two games to get to six goals — and it could be a harbinger of things to come.
He’s completely healthy, has a new four-year contract worth $53 million, has talented line-mates and obviously hasn’t lost his scoring touch.
Team-mate Morgan Rielly says the best is yet to come. An NHL.com feature written by Mike Zeisberger quoted Rielly saying “He’s going to do a lot of damage on a lot of records.”
Instead of the Leafs being just a run and-gun offensive team, led by Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares, Toronto is now a more rounded team this season after new general manager Brad Treliving got the key to the vault and spent some money on free agents.
The Leafs now boast a lineup featuring more gritty and ‘sandpaper’-type players, with the addition of Ryan Reaves, who might just be the heavyweight champion of the NHL’s hockey-fighting fraternity; Tyler Bertuzzi, whose uncle Todd played a hard-nosed game during his 18-year NHL career; and Max Domi, whose father, Tie, was known for aggressive play and remains one of the Leafs’ all-time favourite players.
Treliving also signed defenceman John Klingberg, but his reputation is that of an offensively skilled player whose defensive play is often lacking.
Still, the roster additions have made the Leafs one of the most exciting teams in the league and if they can get solid goaltending from the duo of Ilya Samsonov and Joseph Woll, they won’t be an easy out come playoff time.
While more likely to win a game 6-5 than 2-1, the Leafs easily have the firepower to win many of those high-scoring games. With Matthews and Co. leading the way, of course.
Calder Trophy winner (top rookie) in 2016-17; Hart Trophy winner (MVP) in 2021-22; two-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner (most goals), Matthews would love to add one more piece of
silverware to his collection — the Stanley Cup. It seems the pieces are fitting together nicely in Canada’s largest city for that to possibly happen for the first time since 1967.
• Bob Molinaro of pilotonline.com (Hampton, Va.): “Before rolling your eyes at the proposed inclusion of flag football at the 2028 Summer Olympics, keep in mind that the ’24 Paris Games will introduce breakdancing as a medal sport. Now you can roll your eyes.”
• Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel, on X, after Tom Brady said the NFL is softening up and becoming like flag football: “So now that he’s retired he wants the game to be more physical.”
• Los Angeles Rams’ head coach Sean McVay, whose wife is pregnant, on possibly missing a game for the birth of his son: “I’m not going to miss a game. My son knows better than to come during a game.”
• Mike Bianchi again: “Anthony Richardson played in five NFL games this season, was knocked out of three of them with three different injuries and now is out for the season with a bum shoulder. Sadly, I fear A.R. has the speed and strength of an oncoming locomotive, but the fragility of a butterfly’s wings.”
• Another one from Bianchi: “Question: What has less forward progress – the Tampa Bay Bucs running game or a snail on a treadmill?”
• Canadian parody site The Beaverton on Scotiabank Arena in Toronto maximizing revenue with ridiculous charges: “People in the stands will be charged $15 for each time they say the name ‘Auston Matthews.’”
• The Beaverton, in the same story: “Since there is no correlation between the Leafs winning and people attending, we realized there is no need for any correlation between money and food either.”
• RJ Currie of sportsdeke.com: “A nine-year-old showed cat-like reflexes by catching his baby brother who had fallen off a table. Metro UK called him a hero; the Denver Bronco called him with a contract offer.”
• Fark.com:, on the inscription of a headstone of an avid golfer: “Guess what? I’m 6 under.”
• Fark.com again: “Russell Wilson has $39M guaranteed next season. Any significant injury would guarantee another $37M. Safest to bench him now.”
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by Bruce Penton