OKAY. OKAY OKAY OKAY.
Let’s get a couple things out of the way.
Auston Matthews is a saint. Best Leafs forward in, well, maybe ever. Without freaking out too much, he’s behind just Rick Vaive and Dave Andreychuk in terms of goals per game by a Leaf (min 100 games) since, well, the 1930s, in an era with less scoring than either of those two. We know how how good he is. You know how good he is. He scores in bunches on the power play and at even strength and he sometimes takes over a game with just the flick of a wrist or two.
He is also, if you’d believe it: the youngest player on Toronto, and the third youngest player in the series.
All that out of the way? Everyone in agreement Matthews is great? Wonderful.
Watch these, if you want to remember the type of playoff player he can be.
Tonight’s game three marks the 16th playoff game of young Matthews’ career. In nine of those fifteen games, Matthews has registered zero points. In just one of them (Toronto’s game 3 victory over Washington in 2017), the 2016 first overall draft pick has registered more than a single point. After scoring goals in four consecutive playoff games to close out his first ever playoff series, Matthews has scored once in the nine games since. The Leafs are 4-5 in those nine games against Boston.
It was, in fact, a Game 3 against Boston the last time he scored in the playoffs, a year ago tomorrow.
But it’s not as if Matthews has completely disappeared, or anything. He had five shots on goal last game. Three in Game 1. Four in last year’s Game 7, and five in Game Six. This year, he’s put up an individual 5v5 xG toal through two games of 0.51, good enough for fourth on the roster, meaning based on shot locations he’s on par for about half a goal at even strength. Of course, the Leafs have scored just three of those: one each from Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Nazem Kadri.
No Leaf has more shot attempts than Auston Matthews through the two games either, with 12 at 5v5 to go into his total of 17 in all situations. He’s a volume shooter as much as he is a one-shot scorer, and as much as he’s been “shut down” so far, he’s still been inches away from scoring more than a few times.
The effort level is there, the talent level is there. Auston Matthews is on another level compared to 99.9% of the players who will ever pick up a hockey stick. Just five players in the NHL who played regular top-six minutes scored at a higher rate at even strength this season: including Auston’s fellow all-star teammate, John Tavares. And through two games, expectations have been at an all-time high. The process appears to be there.
But one thing remains clear: if the Leafs want to win the series, the playoff results from Auston Matthews need to be better based on how good we know he can be.
The stage is set for Toronto’s golden boy to flip the narrative. Can he rise up to the challenge?