Auston Matthews’ eighth career hat-trick helps lead Maple Leafs to a 6-5 shootout win over Canadiens
Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
By Joseph Zita1 month ago
After what felt like a lengthy preseason schedule that dragged on, the Toronto Maple Leafs opened their 2023-24 season tonight at home against the Montreal Canadiens.
There were many storylines heading into the opening game. From Bertuzzi making his debut on the top line to a Domi wearing a Leafs jersey again to even 19-year-old Fraser Minten making his NHL debut after an impressive training camp, the biggest goal for Toronto tonight was to try and go out there and open your season with a win against a divisional rival.
In typical Toronto Maple Leafs fashion, especially against teams they should dominate, they allowed the first goal of the game pretty early after T.J. Brodie lost an edge at the offensive blue line, which sprung Jake Evans on a breakaway.
Playing from behind, Toronto started to mount the pressure and strung a couple of good shifts in a row. However, Calle Jarnkrok took an offensive zone penalty and killed any momentum they were trying to create after going down early.
Minutes go by after Toronto kills the penalty, and Ryan Reaves hits the ice.
His presence is loud, and he made a statement early with a couple of massive hits on some Canadiens players. These hits caught the attention of rugged Canadiens defenceman Arber Xhekaj, who jumped him behind the Montreal net. To the surprise of nobody, both heavyweights went at it just 10 minutes into their season opener.
It was a pretty even back-and-forth period after the Reaves and Xhekaj fight. However, Toronto couldn’t score on the power play they received after Xhekaj was handed an instigating penalty for jumping Reaves.
Toronto went into the first intermission down 1-0.
Like the first period, the team surrenders an early goal off a sloppy play.
Jake McCabe was pinching in the offensive zone, which led to William Nylander being back in support of John Klingberg. However, Nylander decided to be a little too aggressive and pinched leaving Klingberg the only man back.
Down by two on opening night, David Kampf takes Toronto’s second offensive zone penalty of the night, and they have to kill off another penalty. Montreal scored to make it 3-0, but on the backs of Sheldon Keefe and his perfect record of challenges last year, they reviewed it and the play was deemed offside.
I don’t know if the challenge sparked something for them, but they started to buzz and create more scoring chances, and the first goal of the season for Toronto came off the stick of recently signed Noah Gregor.
The Maple Leafs didn’t stop there.
With the chances continuing to generate for Toronto, they were awarded their third power-play of the game, and they made no mistake this time as Auston Matthews buried his first of the season and 300th of his career to tie the game 2-2.
Just when it seemed like both teams were heading into the second intermission tied at two, Montreal took another penalty to put Toronto on the power play for the fourth time.
This time, it was a William Nylander blast to put his team ahead by one with just 45 seconds remaining in the frame.
Toronto went into the second intermission up 3-2 and outshooting Montreal 26-13 after being down 2-0 and the shots being way closer. They outshot Montreal 16-2 in the second period and held them without a shot after the Caufield’s goal got overturned.
The third period began how the entire second period went for Toronto.
The Bertuzzi-Matthews-Marner line looked their best at the start of this period, generating scoring chances, but Jake Allen was there to stop them all. However, a slashing penalty to Bertuzzi swung the momentum in Montreal’s favour to start the third period, and Toronto’s 3-2 lead quickly became a 4-3 deficit within a blink of an eye.
After Montreal scored two goals in quick succession, Toronto wasn’t able to generate at the same pace they did in the previous period. It was more of an even period for both clubs, until another giveaway, this time off the stick of Timothy Liljegren, led to a goal for the Canadiens as Jesse Ylonen made it 5-3.
With just under five minutes to go in the game and down by two with nothing to lose, Sheldon Keefe pulled Ilya Samsonov for the extra attacker, and it ended up working. Auston Matthews scored his second of the night to get his team back within a goal.
Despite the feeling of dread among fans that the Matthews goal was nothing but false hope, he did it again. It was his first hat-trick of the season and eighth of his career, and it brought the game to overtime.
I was honestly expecting the game to end in overtime since we just watched 10 goals scored in regulation, but that wasn’t the case. Both goalies were very sharp in the overtime period for their respective teams.
With chance after chance getting denied, they headed to their first shootout of the season after they went five minutes without a goal.
Toronto would ultimately pick up the win with Mitch Marner scoring the lone goal in the third round of the shootout. The final result, they start off the 2023-24 season with a rollercoaster of a win, 6-5.
Who stood out:
Although it was opening night, and there were a lot of new players to watch for in tonight’s game, there weren’t many Maple Leafs that stood out to me in the early going of the game.
They were a little sloppy through the first period, but once Noah Gregor opened the scoring, it seemed they got their feet moving and started to look like the team we were expecting offensive-wise.
Auston Matthews is an obvious choice for a player who stood out, but how can you not mention what he did tonight?
He registered three goals, eight shots, three hits, and one block tonight and also looked better on the top line with Bertuzzi and Marner as the game went on. Nylander also looked like mid-season Nylander. He had a couple of moments that left fans scratching their heads, but also looked very silky and added a goal and an assist in the season opener.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are back in action Saturday night at home when they host the Minnesota Wild. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 pm ET/4:00 pm PT on Sportsnet Ontario and CBC.
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