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 now 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 opener.
So much for the idea that the Wild would be a sturdier opponent than the Canadiens.
Some at-the-buzzer thoughts on the Leafs’ victory, running them to 2-0 on the season.
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. Six goals in his first two games? Matthews has never done that.
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 in 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, his fifth goal didn’t come until his ninth game, on Nov. 6 at home against the Boston Bruins.
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, he’s already making it clear that setting a career-high is not out of the question.
Recommended from Editorial
Leaf notes: Keefe hopes new Marlies coach keeps player pipeline open
Upon further review, Keefe not as displeased with Maple Leafs’ play in opener
Veteran outreach helping to put Fraser Minten in place of comfort with Maple Leafs
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, and we would be saying the same thing had Samsonov 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. Besides, it’s not like it would be a risk to get him in. The Leafs have confidence in him, and he in himself. Start him on Monday.
As for Samsonov, as we saw in the Leafs’ 6-5 shootout victory against the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday, there were some troubling moments.
The Wild’s second goal, by Matt Boldy, was a bad one, plain and simple. From what appeared to be a tough angle, Boldy went short side on Samsonov, scoring over the goalie’s right shoulder as Samsonov couldn’t hug the post properly. Minnesota scored just under six minutes later, cutting the Leafs’ lead to 4-3, when Marco Rossi batted a puck out behind Samsonov.
THAT NEW FEELING
Ryan Reaves fought again. Tyler Bertuzzi scored his first goal with the Leafs. And Max Domi registered his first point with Toronto, an assist on a goal by William Nylander that already is a highlight-of-the-year candidate. And if not, certainly of the month. More on that in a second.
Reaves has come as advertised, crashing his way around the ice, yet not with abandon. In the first period, after knocking over Rossi and then running through Frederick Gaudreau, Reaves was engaged in a fight by Marcus Foligno. We can’t say with certainty yet what kind of impact Reaves will have on the Leafs in the long run — they’ve been able to win a lot in previous regular seasons without a player of his type — but he’s making his presence known now. The Leafs aren’t worse off for it.
Bertuzzi scored the kind of goal we can expect from the winger. Parked in front of the Wild net, Bertuzzi jammed a pass from Calle Jarnkrok past Gustavsson during a power play early in the second period to give Toronto a 4-1 lead.
If, for whatever reason, you have not yet seen a highlight of 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 before going to his forehand to fool Gustavsson.
It has become a thing with Nylander and Minnesota. He scored a similar goal against the Wild in overtime last February.
For good measure, Nylander ripped a shot past Gustavsson late in the third period.
Nylander is playing for a new contract. He’s going to get paid.