The Leafs 3 stars of the week: Auston Matthews sets Maple Leafs single-season goal record and his chase to 60, Mitch Marner’s MVP second-half continues
Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
By Joseph Zita1 year ago
It was quite the special week if you’re a Toronto Maple Leafs fan because fans of the team, and even just hockey fans in general got to witness history as Auston Matthews tied and then set the new single-season goal record for the Toronto Maple Leafs. On top of history being made, the Maple Leafs had four games on their schedule last week and two of them involved two of the best teams in the league, both being in the Atlantic division.
The Maple Leafs finished a great week of hockey the week prior when they went 4-0-0 against Florida, Boston, Winnipeg, and Philadelphia, but to begin their week last week they had a tough back-to-back against Tampa Bay and Florida, both on the road. However, Toronto played two great games (minus the second half of the Florida game) against both teams and proved to a lot of people that despite them playing down to their competition a lot, they can hang with the elite of the elite among the league. Toronto opened their week on Monday night with a massive convincing 6-2 win in Tampa Bay that silenced the crowd as they dominated from puck drop to final horn.
Following a very impressive 6-2 win against the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions, Toronto entered FLA Live Arena to play the Panthers for the second time in less than 10 days and it was going all too well for this Toronto team when they went up 5-1 early in the second period and got Sergei Bobrovskiy pulled from the game. However, it quickly went downhill for them and Florida scored five straight goals to take the 6-5 lead, but not until Tavares tied it and sent it to overtime. Sadly, Toronto couldn’t get the extra point and they fell short 7-6 in overtime but left Florida with three out of the possible four points which is pretty darn good if you ask me. It sucks they lost the lead and eventually lost the game, but that was the first time Toronto lost a multi-goal lead and lost the game since mid-January when they were up 3-1 over the Rangers and lost 6-3.
Now that the Maple Leafs have collected 11 out of the possible 12 points in their last six games, they now finish their road trip in Dallas to play a Stars team fighting for a playoff spot. Well, they played the Stars, but it didn’t look like a Stars team fighting for a playoff spot as Toronto absolutely dominated them from puck drop to final horn and it really was surprising that this game ended up going to overtime, but luckily, Toronto grabbed the extra point this time and left Dallas with the 4-3 overtime win.
With three straight wins and points in seven straight games, the Toronto Maple Leafs hosted the Montreal Canadiens Saturday night and with a win would clinch themselves a playoff spot for the sixth consecutive season. Just like the game prior against Dallas, Toronto came out flying and had themselves a first period to remember as they outshot Montreal 18-8, but more importantly outscored them 2-0. It was more close in the second-period shots wise but Montreal outscored the Maple Leafs 2-1, but it was Toronto who took the 3-2 lead into the third period and ended up securing the win to reach the 100-point mark as well as clinching a playoff spot.
Record during week 26: 3-0-1 | Season record: 47-19-6 (100 points)
3rd Star: John Tavares – 4 GP – 2 G – 2 A – 4 PTS
Ever since the move that sent William Nylander from the second line down to the third line with David Kampf and Pierre Engvall, by the eye test, I’ve honestly kind of liked both lines like that, and with Nylander on the third line now, the second line consists of Ilya Mikheyev and Alex Kerfoot alongside John Tavares, who is this week’s third star. Now I know a lot of the attention has been on Auston Matthews and even Mitch Marner for the past couple of months, but John Tavares is still putting up pretty darn solid second-line numbers and is just a couple of points shy of a point per game while missing one game this season too.
This week was another quiet, yet pretty productive week for the Toronto captain and he has continued his pretty solid season behind two superstars on this team. Tavares had himself a four-point week – two goals and two assists – in four games which included both the game-tieing goal that sent the game to overtime against Florida and the game-winning goal against Montreal Saturday night that punched their ticket to the playoffs for the sixth straight season.
Tavares opened his week in Florida, as I said with a goal which was his 25th at the time that sent the game to overtime, as well as registering an assist in the game too on Mitch Marner’s second goal of the contest on the power-play to give him yet another multi-point game this season. After a two-point outing, he continued that into Dallas and tallied an assist on Auston Matthews’ historical goal and on Saturday night, as I said, scored the game-winning goal against the Canadiens and now has himself a three-game point streak. With his four-point week, Tavares has now improved his point totals to 69 points – 26 goals and 43 assists – in 71 games which is a 79 point pace for the rest of the season (missed one game).
Tavares is going to be a very, very important piece down the stretch here for this team and heading into the playoffs because if the team can’t find ways to score, that second line is going to have to find ways to continue to contribute as well as the bottom-six.
2nd Star: Mitch Marner – 4 GP – 3 G – 6 A – 9 PTS
Again, I sound like a broken record whenever I have him as one of the three stars of the week, but I will really, really try my best not to repeat myself but it’s going to be very hard given that he continues to do amazing things and just continues to be one of the best players in the league and the best player since mid-January. It was another outstanding week for the right-winger on both sides of the puck, and on the offensive side of the puck is where you can really see it the most. Mitch Marner had himself a huge nine-point week last week – three goals and six assists – in four games while continuing the greatest season of his young career.
Marner is a very talented player, we all know that. However, we all know that his inconsistency at times can really show and can really be frustrating. But that hasn’t been the case since he returned to the lineup in mid-January and he has honestly taken his game to a completely new level offensively and defensively and has truly become one of the very best players in the league, not just wingers, players in general.
He opened up his huge week on Monday night in Tampa Bay with a three-point game which was his fourth, three-point game in his last eight games at the time, and his eighth multi-point game in his last 10 games as well. With a goal and two assists, Marner has continued to quickly rise up the points leaderboards in the NHL and has just simply been the best or at least one of the best players since mid-January. However, a three-point game against Tampa Bay wasn’t enough, because he continued that into their game against the Panthers and had a massive four-point night which included two goals – including his 30th and 31st of the season – and two assists for four points and seven in his last two.
With seven points in two games against two of the best teams in the league, while playing excellent on the defensive side of the puck, Marner decided to slow things down a bit but still play tremendously on both ends. He picked up a single assist in both of their final games last week against Dallas and Montreal and with those two more points, he has now improved his season point totals to 90 points – 31 goals and 59 assists – in just 63 games this season. He missed nine games with injury/COVID protocol and it’s honestly impressive to see him have the second half he has been having ever since returning to the lineup. With his amazing totals thus far, he is on pace to finish the season with 36 goals and 68 assists for a jaw-dropping 104 points in just 73 games if he would be to finish the remaining 10 games of the season because as I said, he’s missed nine games this season already.
1st Star: Auston Matthews – 4 GP – 7 G – 4 A – 11 PTS
It’s honestly getting absolutely ridiculous at this point. What can’t this man do? No, seriously. Auston Matthews has been arguably the best player in the entire NHL this season and has a legit shot to win as many as four awards at the season’s end, or at least two or three at the minimum. Whether you like him or hate him and or the Toronto Maple Leafs, you can’t sit there and seriously disregard the type of MVP season and historical season this 24-year-old from Arizona is currently having. Not only has he been the Maple Leafs’ MVP this season, I truly, truly believe he has been the NHL’s MVP this season and he proved it yet again last week in just four games.
Matthews has been on an absolute heater for what seems like basically the entire season at this point, but things really started to pick up in maybe mid-January, or early February, and it has honestly been such a treat to watch, in my opinion. Over the last handful of weeks, Matthews has made his case for the Hart Trophy even better with his play, especially with Igor Shesterkin’s play declining a bit over that stretch as well. However, with the amount of talent in this league, there are a handful of other players that will get some serious consideration for this award too. Players like Igor Shesterkin as I mentioned, Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Jonathan Huberdeau, Cale Makar, Roman Josi, and Johnny Gaudreau have been such key contributors and leaders to their teams along with Auston Matthews that they all have a shot at this award.
However, the other player’s shot at this award might be small at this point compared to Matthews and it’s no shot at their play, it’s just high praise for Matthews’ game this season and the records he has broken along the way and the fact that he may very well hit 60 goals and 100 points. We honestly haven’t seen a season like this from someone since Mario Lemieux in the mid-1990s when he scored 50 goals in a 50 game stretch and that’s what Matthews did this weekend. Before I get into what other big things Matthews did over the week, let’s talk about his production through the four games. In the four games he played last week, Matthews scored seven goals and tallied four assists for an incredible 11 points in just four games, and two of those games were against two of the best teams in the league where he had himself back-to-back three-point nights including a four-point night against the Lightning.
Now that we know he went beast mode last week, let’s talk about what he did for the record books. For starters, as we know he hit the 50-goal mark almost two weeks ago at home against the Jets and that was a pretty big deal because he was only the fourth Maple Leaf to do so and now he was only four goals away from tieing Rick Vaive’s record and five away from breaking it. Well, that didn’t take long. Over the weekend he scored in Philadelphia for goal number 51 and then last week to start the week in Tampa Bay he had himself a hat-trick to tie the record at 54.
He wasn’t able to score in the game in Florida but the next game didn’t stop him as he scored twice and quickly broke and set a new record of goals with 55 and 56 with his overtime winner. Not only did Matthews hit 50 goals, but he hit that mark, tied Vaive’s record, and broke it with a two-goal night all within a week and a half which is insane. Now that he is at 56 goals, he came back home to play Montreal in front of the fans for the first time since he hit 50 and he gave them something else to cheer about as he scored two more goals for 57 and 58 and is now just two goals away from 60.
If he is able to hit 60 with 10 games remaining, Matthews will be the first player to hit 60 goals since Steven Stamkos did it in the 2010-11 season and the first player to score 60 goals and 100 points in the same season since Alex Ovechkin did it in the 2007-08 season when he scored 65 goals and 112 points. And speaking of Ovechkin’s 65 goals, Matthews is just eight goals away from breaking that mark and could possibly set a record for the most goals scored in a single season in the salary cap era if he is able to hit 66.
With 10 games remaining and maybe possible rest for Matthews ahead of the playoffs, there is a legit chance we could see him hit 60 very soon and maybe even tie or break Ovechkin’s 65-goal mark that was set over a decade and a half ago.
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