describes the things one doesn't really see but has a sense of when watching the game. Nothing Ottawa did worked against Matthews line (a line of 3 rookies) other than 3 on 3 play in OT. Will be interesting to see what happens when he goes up against Bergeron, Marchand, and Backes on Saturday.
Give credit to the NHL: Opening the regular season with a game between the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs played out splendidly.
Sure, the defensive coverage on both ends of the ice ranged from suspect to catastrophic, but nine goals and a hell of a lot of back-and-forth action made for an incredibly exciting game.
Ottawa ended up winning in overtime by a score of 5-4, but the story of the night was the wondrous effort of Toronto rookie Auston Matthews. The kid chipped in four goals in his NHL debut, including a couple which were of absolute highlight-reel quality.
Now, I think anyone can appreciate that kind of performance - scoring four goals in any game is an almost impossible achievement, let alone doing so in the first game of your career. But the real takeaway for me was how his performance on just about every single shift was overpowering against an Ottawa team that has plenty of talent. Even on shifts when Matthews didn’t score, he and his line were in total control.
The goals will get an awful lot of attention, but consider some of the other numbers underpinning Matthews’ performance on Wednesday night. First, he individually generated six shots. Second, his line - he played primarily with Zach Hyman and William Nylander - generated a whopping 13 scoring chances at 5-on-5, or about one per minute of ice time. Third, by Corsi measures, the Leafs had control of the puck approximately 75 per cent of the time with the Matthews line on the ice.
Yes, it’s just one game. But those kinds of splits are tough to manage even for established NHL veterans against halfway decent competition.
On that competition point: Matthews didn’t exactly get a run of easy deployment. Ottawa, with last change, had their chance to throw whatever line and defensive pair they wanted against his group. That meant big servings of their top-pairing in Erik Karlsson and Marc Methot, and healthy servings of forwards Bobby Ryan and Kyle Turris.
Did it matter? Well, not really. Here’s a look at Matthews’ competition by frequency on opening night and how he fared against each by way of shot differential. It was pretty much a bloodbath in Toronto’s favour:
The stunning thing here is that not a single Ottawa player was able to break even against the Matthews line, though Dion Phaneuf - at least relatively speaking - came close. This was, for all intents and purposes, as one-sided a matchup as you’ll see.
On the other side of the ledger, there were plenty of areas to give Leafs coach Mike Babcock heartburn. The defensive zone breakdowns, as mentioned earlier, were still quite noticeable. And Fred Andersen’s goaltending debut - a position the team sorely needed to upgrade after last year’s abysmal puck-stopping run - was more or less a disaster.
In that way, the first Leafs game of the year was a perfect reminder of the situation now and what’s to come. There are plenty of reasons to be cautious about proclaiming the Leafs a playoff hopeful, but there are also plenty of reasons to be hopeful about what’s to come. Matthews, one game in, looks like a star.