Auston Matthews stands up for himself and shows his winning smile, chaos ensues
Photo credit:© Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
4 months ago
The Leafs desperately needed a good result to get themselves back on track and they got exactly that on Wednesday night.
While it was against a Flyers team who played the previous night, Toronto did almost everything you could ask of them throughout the 60 minutes. Ilya Samsonov made some quality saves when he had to, John Tavares put the team on his back with an inspiring performance, and the bottom six played well while also getting rewarded with a goal from Zach Aston-Reese.
The power-play showed signs of being more creative and they turned it into two tallies. Although the Leafs took six infractions on the night, they killed off five of them and were much more sound down a man.
It was a game that was desperately needed with the temperature in the fanbase at a boiling point, which should help the team feel better about themselves as they prepare to take on the red-hot Bruins on Saturday. Theoretically, should be nothing to complain about with a game in which the Leafs were clearly the better team all night long.
As is always the case, people will find something to nitpick with the Leafs. In this case, many were upset at Auston Matthews for not really engaging with Travis Konecny near the end of the game.
As the video shows, Konecny tries to hit Matthews who is parked in front of the net. Matthews takes exception to the collision and immediately goes after him with a few slashes, which continues for a few moments before Mark Giordano comes flying in to fight Konecny. After things start to calm down following the scrum, Matthews again starts shoving Konecny before Bunting steps in and starts shoving the Flyers forward to the ice. Throughout this entire ordeal, Matthews is grinning from ear to ear as if to tempt Konecny into continuing the altercation.
While I understand that him fighting Konecny could fire up the Leafs’ bench and inspire the rest of the team, Matthews conducted himself well in this scrum by not dropping the gloves.
He is a little over a year removed from having wrist surgery and had a nagging wrist dating back to January 2020. Not only do the Leafs not want to lose their franchise centre for any amount of time, but they also don’t want him to lose any effectiveness in his wrist so soon after the surgery. The fact he was able to score 148 goals over a three-year stretch in spite of having sore wrists makes his recent accomplishments even more remarkable.
Like the rest of the roster, Giordano and Bunting know that Matthews’ wrists are better utilized for scoring goals and it was not worth risking a potential setback in a 5-2 game with around three minutes left. After the game, Giordano said to the media “[It’s] pretty straightforward: he’s our best player and we can’t have him involved in fights.”
There is no reason for Matthews to drop the gloves here, so Giordano and Bunting do the right thing by sticking up for their teammate and instinctively going after Konecny instead of standing idle, which is something we have seen them doing a lot more of since their game against the Stars.
This scrum started was that Matthews stood up for himself and took a run at Konecny by slashing him a few times. Knowing that his teammates have his back and will fight alongside him, it’s no wonder Matthews was smiling.
Sheldon Keefe certainly thought his star forward conducted himself appropriately as he said during the post-game scrum:
Auston is in there competing and sticking up for himself. That has happened a couple of times now and our guys have responded appropriately in the moment. That is another really positive thing to come out of it.Those are the kinds of things that help build your team a little bit closer. It is great to see.
Speaking of grins, I have no problems with Matthews doing that because he knows he can be a nuisance to the opposition and give his team an advantage as a result.
Matthews is beginning to pick up tendencies of a pest by agitating an opposing player to lose focus from the game and instead try and attack him which could result in the Leafs getting a power play. While this particular instance saw Matthews go to the box, doing things like this more often will make the Leafs harder to play against because players will instead be more preoccupied with getting at him instead of winning the game. It would not be surprising if he has been taking notes from Tom Wilson and Brad Marchand over the years on how to be an effective pest.
The immediate comparison that many made was to a scrum during the Canadiens series from 2021 where he was rag-dolled by Ben Chiarot and smiling the entire time. Those two instances are not comparable in the slightest because this time around, Matthews was the initiator and clearly enjoyed getting under Konecny’s skin by shoving and slashing him a few times. He clearly has learned his lesson from two years ago and knows that grinning while getting rag-dolled will not do himself any favours. Now, Matthews is sticking up for himself while also being a troll by smiling at his opponent as if to say “you are no match for me.”
One other area that some had gripes with was when Matthews supposedly did not do much once the scrum started and then barely tussled with Egor Zamula who arrived late to the scrum. As I mentioned earlier, Matthews is better off not fighting and does not need to risk injuring his wrists in a game that is practically over at that point. He probably thought to himself that there was no need to go into the scrum since everyone already had a dance partner.
Matthews was already going to be penalized for slashing, why risk potentially taking an unsportsmanlike penalty that would unnecessarily give the Flyers an advantage? Also, he correctly identified that Zamula was not really going to engage in the scrum since he arrived late and let it play out appropriately.
The Leafs are by no means a flawless team, but how they conducted themselves at the end of Wednesday’s game was all you could ask of them. Matthews stood up for himself when Konecny took a run at him, Giordano and Bunting instinctively came to his defence, and the Leafs showed some comradery that is a welcome sight.
Matthews handled himself well in this scrum and made the right decision not to drop the gloves to avoid an unnecessary injury to his wrists which are still healing. He played the role of a pest perfectly while showing signs that he can distract his opponents from the game and instead focus on attacking him instead. Matthews being an agitator could go a long way in making the Leafs tough to play against, in addition to him ramping up the physicality.
There are plenty of things in life to be upset about. How Matthews acted in the scrum against Konecny is not one of them.
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