Although it is quite a small sample size, we have been witness to some good play from the Toronto Maple Leafs recently as they learn to adapt without the presence of Auston Matthews. The superstar has been on the DL missing the last three games, with the mysterious “upper body” injury. On a side note here, if a player injures their hand is that considered an upper body injury as it is connected to the arm or a lower body injury because they usually hang below the waist and while we are speaking of injuries, if someone gets an upset tummy is that considered a central body injury? Sorry, I digress.
Prior to Matthews absence, the Leafs were in a mini slump of their own having won I believe only 2 out of their 8 games. Surely more trouble was to come now that their leading point getter was out of commission. Surprisingly though (or maybe not) they beat the Minnesota Wild and then edged the Boston Bruins twice in back-to-back nights.
Let’s be honest, these opponents were not tearing up the league. The Wild are last in the Central division and the injury plagued Bruins are a shell of their true self. That notwithstanding, the Leafs did earn those victories and there’s a couple of reasons as to why.
Since last year, Toronto has earned themselves a reputation of being a young, quick, highly offensive team and rightfully so as they lead the league in scoring this year. But as the old adage goes, defence wins championship. Without Matthews to help lead the way on offence, the Leafs seemed to be concentrating more on their back end, only allowing 5 goals over those 3 games. True, these aren’t the stingiest of stats, but it still is a dramatic improvement and helps take the pressure off the offence having to score 5 goals a game to win.
Speaking of offence, welcome back Mitch Marner. The former London Knight struggled to find his form this season and was even demoted to the 4th line at one point. Kudos to his great attitude and maturity in keeping his work ethic high during that time. His assists in the tying and overtime goals in that first game versus Boston were much needed for the win and those results helped his confidence. It was nice to see his hard work continued to get rewarded as he scored in the following Bruins match as well. Hopefully he is back on track and can keep it going for the remainder of the season.
As good as the 3 wins have been, there is still one a couple of areas that are plaguing the Maple Leafs. The most glaring is for William Nylander to start scoring again. It has been 10 games now since the talented Swede has found the back of the net. He has been criticized recently by Coach Babcock for his lack of competitiveness. That may be the case for part of it but even when he is competing at a high level, he has been snake bitten. He is just too good of a player for this to linger much longer. There are two things he needs to focus on. The first is to not let the slump affect other areas of his game. Keep the hustle up and defend as best you can and I think that is what Coach Babcock was referring too. Secondly, just as you keep telling basketball players who are 0-for-19 to just keep shooting, so should Nylander. That’s what he does best and sooner rather than later, he will break out of it.
Leaf fans should be content with this mini 3 game winning streak but it still isn’t any reason to plan (or continue to plan) parade routes. It does however provide a bit more insight into the players as more people are getting an opportunity. Their next game is against the rejuvenated New Jersey Devils who embarrassed them a few weeks ago. Apart from extracting some revenge, this will be an excellent test for the buds whether or not it is with Matthews in the lineup.
One last thing to note about Matthews not playing is that it has, at least for me, taken a bit out of watching the game. There is just this aura of anticipation that something magical will happen every time he is on the ice. Whether it is an overtime winning snipe, batting a puck out of midair or just how easily he keeps possession of the puck through traffic or along the boards, Matthews has fans unknowingly at the edge of their seat with each shift. It may be unfair to the rest of the team to mention it but as long as they keep on winning, I won’t mind at all.
» Sports » The Matthews-less Leafs