This is all patently absurd:
- The four leading scorers in the entire NHL play for the Maple Leafs.
- Auston Matthews is on pace for 143 goals this season.
- Matthews has four multi-goal games in his first five.
- Matthews, with nine goals in his first five games, ties an NHL record shared by some guys you might’ve heard of: Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy, Alex Ovechkin, and Patrick Marleau.
- Morgan Rielly has 12 assists in his first five games, the most for an NHL defenseman since World War I.
The Leafs are 4-1-0 and atop the Atlantic in the early going, and while everyone expected this young team to be good, nobody could have predicted them being this good this quickly, this explosive, this top-heavy.
The strangest thing about Toronto’s start is how unbalanced it is. Matthews, Rielly, John Tavares, and Mitch Marner all have double-digit points; no one else in the NHL does, and no other skater on the Leafs has more than four points. Matthews and Tavares have 60 percent of Toronto’s goals. If you’d have told me that Nazem Kadri, Patrick Marleau, Jake Gardiner, and Zach Hyman would have yet to score, and that William Nylander would have yet to play, and the Leafs would still be in first place ... well, I’d probably have guessed exactly this, that Matthews and Tavares are playing out of their minds.
Matthews had yet another two-goal game, his third straight, and Tavares racked up four assists in Thursday’s 5-3 win over the Red Wings. Here’s Matthews’s first, on the power play, and it’s not immediately sexy, but is absolutely terrifying to goaltenders. Matthews doesn’t rush here; Jimmy Howard has plenty of time to get positioned. And Howard doesn’t offer a huge hole or anything. Matthews simply puts a wrister exactly where he wants it, where it needs to be.
Matthews’s second also came on the man-advantage, and this time, there’s sexiness. Matthews doesn’t have to work here, because Tavares complete ruins Detroit’s shit with a between-the-legs setup right in front of net.
There are different schools of thought on how to compose power-play units. One says to separate your top distributors and scorers, two have two dangerous units and not give the kill a single breather. The other philosophy—Mike Babcock’s—says to load it up. The Leafs’ PP1 is a 1-3-1 formation and consists of the aforementioned four leading NHL scorers plus Nazem Kadri, with Rielly at the point and Tavares causing trouble in front of the net. It has thus far been deadly, scoring at exactly 50 percent, best in the league. (Well, tied with Dallas, but the Stars have had six fewer opportunities.)
I feel like I need a cigarette after just writing about this team. This is fun. This is the visiting team you want tickets to go see. It is unsustainable, but who cares? All the Leafs’ weaknesses and potential downfalls, from a lack of secondary scoring to a soft blue line to questionable goaltending, are on display, but again—who cares about that right now? Nobody’s winning or losing a Stanley Cup in October, so give in and enjoy this...even if it is Toronto.
Because, if nothing else, we are seeing the California-born, Arizona-raised Matthews’s ascension as the second-best player in hockey. (I am not saying he’s there. I am saying he’s going to be there.) And because his start has been so hot, it’s got some excitable people giving in to hyperbole and wondering if “second-best” is underselling it. Matthews is “in the conversation” with Conor McDavid. Matthews “is 1A or 1B to McDavid.” There’s a poll:
The debate’s not really a debate, but it’s still going to be one (especially since Matthews plays in a big market and his team isn’t complete ass), and it’s probably going to be one for the next decade. I say, bring it on.
“The game has rolled over from Crosby and Ovechkin to the evolution of McDavid and Matthews,” said TSN’s Ray Ferraro. “We were told by all the people that do all the scouting that generationally these players are just different, and special. And then of course, the word ‘generational’ gets thrown around to all these other people where it doesn’t belong. But McDavid and Matthews are everything that people told us about before we saw them play every game.”
Great hockey players playing great hockey. That’s what’s happening in Toronto, and all you can do is enjoy it for as long as it lasts.