The first Saturday night game of the season is in the book, Auston Matthews has two hat tricks through two games, and the Maple Leafs are 2-0 to start the season.
There are things to work on – and eventually, the team defense and goaltending will need to shore up – but for now, the team is collecting points as they work through the early ups and downs in play that every new season brings.
Your game in 10:
1. This game started off with a flurry of action. Matthew Knies went to work below the Wild’s goal line, spinning off a defender behind the net, coming out front, and getting two shot attempts off in the slot. Ilya Samsonov shut the door on a Brock Faber post-to-post play. Max Domi had a chance in tight. On a Wild power play, Mark Giordano blocked a one-timer by Matthew Boldy that looked like a sure goal. Shortly after, Mitch Marner torched Calen Addison shorthanded before getting robbed on a breakaway.
Ryan Reaves went out and laid two big hits, one on Marco Rossi on the boards and the other on Frederik Gaudreau, who cut in on a toe drag and got laid out in open ice for his troubles. After the second one, Reaves fought Marcus Foligno.
Reaves is doing his part to endear himself to the fan base already, laying a number of big hits and fighting twice through two games. His line has put together some good offensive-zone cycling shifts as well. When we put it all together, if they can be trusted in their own zone and provide some energy shifts to go along with offensive-zone time, it will be a fourth line with a purpose that can contribute to the team.
As for the start of the game with both teams trading chances, I’ll say this: There are maybe three teams in the league that can trade chances with the Leafs and actually stand a chance of beating them. As we’ll see the rest of the way in this game review, the Minnesota Wild are not one of those teams.
2. The Wild did open the scoring in this game, though. Jake McCabe pinched in the offensive zone and the puck was chipped by him, which was fine given the Leafs had numbers back. It was essentially a 1v3 as Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews were backchecking and John Klingberg cut off the drive to the net.
Kirill Kaprizov curled back with the puck, delaying and giving his linemates an opportunity to gain the zone. From there, there was a slight second of confusion for the Leafs as Jonas Brodin took the puck from the top of the circle all the way around the net, out the other side, and passed it to the point. Kaprizov took a shot, Matthews tried to block it with his foot but missed, and Ryan Hartman got a bit lucky, tipping the puck off his own skate and in. It was a really difficult play for Ilya Samsonov.
Potentially noteworthy: Matthews tried to block the shot instead of simply tying up his man. I have noticed this a few times with the team through two games, but they are fronting shots to block them instead of tying up their man and leaving the original shot to Samsonov. I am not sure if they’ve been instructed to do so or if that’s just the way things have played out early on, but it’s something to monitor.
3. It didn’t even take the Leafs a minute and a half to respond. The goal itself was a beautiful pass by Mitch Marner, who picked the puck up off the wall and fed Auston Matthews all alone in the slot (where he rarely misses), but there were two unsung heroes on the goal.
The first is Tyler Bertuzzi. The play started with a faceoff just outside the blue line after which the puck kicked out to the boards. Bertuzzi used his body to shield the puck and kick it back to Morgan Rielly to gain possession. It’s a little thing but a big thing. He was ready to go on the faceoff and outmuscled the Wild forward to win the puck.
When the puck was dumped in, Bertuzzi went right to the front of the net. On the goal, he was boxing out Wild defenseman Alex Goligoski in the slot to give Matthews extra time and space:
The second unsung hero is TJ Brodie, who was aggressive on the dump-in. Off of a play that started from a neutral-zone faceoff, he skated all the way to the hashmark to apply pressure on the half-wall, leading to the turnover that set the stage for the goal. A simple faceoff win and dump-in turned into a relatively easy goal.
4. Last season, Auston Matthews battled a wrist injury that noticeably impacted his play. He fanned on pucks at times and was not as assertive as we have become accustomed to — and yet he still scored 40.
So far this season, he is healthy and it is terrifying… for the opposition. Matthews scored from the goal line against the Habs, and while he wasn’t on the goal line for this one, it was close.
I loved the shot for the power-play goal to make it 2-1. Goalies are sleeping on it, and he is ripping the puck right at their feet. It’s a difficult save. There is traffic in front, they aren’t exactly squaring up and respecting the shot, and if the goalie isn’t doing that, getting their feet suddenly set is quite difficult. As we could see on this goal, the goalie simply dropping down because they aren’t set or ready doesn’t result in a save, either.
Part of what makes Matthews such a great goal-scorer in the league is that he can score in so many different ways. He is not a one-, two-, or even three-trick pony. This is another little wrinkle he’s adding to his repertoire.
5. Still in the first period, the Leafs weren’t done. After the Wild lost the puck in the Leafs’ end, Max Domi quickly picked it up and found John Tavares with a breakout pass up the middle. Tavares drew in defenders before kicking it to William Nylander on the wall. Most importantly, after the pass, Tavares drove the net. We can see below that he tied up two defenders, creating all sorts of space for Nylander to work with:
This is the type of goal where we can see evidence of real growth in Nylander’s game. I said this most of last season, but I think he’s the best Leafs forward at driving the net with the puck. He could have easily shot here — he has a cannon and had all sorts of space (he scored later in the game shooting from pretty well this exact spot) — but instead, he faked the shot, pulled it backhand, lowered his shoulder, and drove the net before going backhand – forehand – back of the net. It’s just a beautiful goal from a high-end player.
6. In the second period, the game settled down some in terms of scoring chances to start. Ilya Samsonov looked comfortable, including a nice save on Marco Rossi who broke through off the rush. But then Max Domi drew a penalty and the Leafs’ vaunted power play went back to work.
We saw it in preseason, but one play they are really looking to set up is the quick tic-tac-toe where the puck goes from the half-wall, to below the goal line, to a centering pass in front where the net front player pops out for a one-timer. They executed it perfectly as Morgan Rielly got the puck and walked in like he was going to shoot, really selling it and drawing in defenders. Afterward, Rielly passed it down low to Calle Jarnkrok, who simply one-touched the puck to Tyler Bertuzzi, who spun and fired the puck home for his first goal as a Leaf.
It’s no surprise, but Bertuzzi wreaks havoc in front of the net constantly. He’s almost always there. It appears it’s going to take some time for him to gel with Matthews and Marner — and probably to get used to not playing on the top power-play unit as well — but we can see the glimpses. He has an uncanny ability to retrieve pucks and create turnovers. He’s physical and creates space for his linemates with all sorts of little crafty picks, stick checks, and body checks.
Bertuzzi stands out as a player who brings something different to the forward group. In previous seasons, one of my main gripes was that the team had basically the same type of forward throughout their lineup. The only difference was the obvious skill level, but otherwise, they all played the same.
7. The Leafs were up 4-1 and the game was comfortably in hand for all of 34 seconds before The Wild gained the zone and on a harmless-looking play, Matt Boldy threw a puck on net from a bad angle that beat Ilya Samsonov.
It was a bad goal to concede. Boldy was outside the faceoff dots, and the puck hit the middle of the net. Samsonov did not cut down the angle properly nor did he need to go down so easily, but he did and the puck went right over him and in. It is early, but through two games, there have been some concerning signs from #35.
Halfway through the period, the Wild made it 4-3 on an extended offensive-zone shift. Brock Faber grabbed the puck at the point and took the puck from the offensive blue line, down the wall, and right to the net, beating Max Domi in the process. There was a rebound, Foligno jammed it, the puck popped in the air, and Rossi batted it in.
Domi has undeniable skill, but the defensive issues are as advertised so far. He committed a bad turnover for a goal against versus the Habs and was beaten badly on this goal. In the third period, he was bumped down the lineup as Jarnkrok moved up in his spot. Keefe said he thought the second line could use more defensive help (and that the other line could use more offensive pop), but at some point soon, he’s going to tire of this. Domi can’t be getting beat badly for a goal against on a nightly basis, and so far, he’s two-for-two as a winger.
8. It is tough to criticize a play that led to a goal — and a nice goal at that — but with a 4-3 lead, TJ Brodie had time and space to wind up a shot at the blue line with two Leafs in front of the net creating traffic. He elected to slap pass the puck to Morgan Rielly in the corner, and it worked out as Rielly fed a gorgeous pass to Calle Jarnkrok in the slot that he one-timed home. It did pay off — and I don’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill — but this is a trend worth pointing out at this rate.
Brodie actively passes up shooting opportunities. In the playoffs last spring, he averaged over 23 minutes per game — largely spent with the Leafs’ top players (which means offensive-zone time and scoring opportunities) — and he put a total of nine shots on goal with three assists in 11 games. In the playoffs, there are very rarely wide opportunities to tee up, so a team has to take them where it gets them.
October hockey is nowhere near playoff hockey, but it’s the time to start building the habits to prepare for playoff hockey, and this is a continuation of what Brodie was doing in the postseason last spring. Passing up a wide-open shot with traffic to pass it to the corner isn’t exactly how you draw it up, but thankfully, Rielly made a special pass leading to an easy goal for Jarnkrok.
9. 31 seconds after making it 5-3, Auston Matthews all but iced the game with a hat-trick goal. Matthews and Mitch Marner got in on the forecheck; Matthews was the first man disrupting the play and Marner was the follow-up, sweeping in and knocking the puck free before poking it back to Matthews behind the net. It’s a great example of the good that comes from winning puck battles.
When Matthews picked up the puck, he was quick to spin out and go for a far-side wraparound. It’s another move we’ve seen him go to before, and it’s a tricky one for goalies. They need to jam the near post, and if they read it right, Matthews has the reach to beat a goalie to the far post, which is what he did here. He’s just an elite goal-scorer.
A couple of minutes later, William Nylander made it a laugher, walking in and ripping a shot short side blocker. Sometimes, you just have to sit back and enjoy the show the star talent on this team is capable of putting on. Nylander has five points through two games and Matthews has six goals in two games. Special players who are starting the season off hot.
10. The Leafs were able to roll their lines in this one. Mitch Marner played just 20:05, while Auston Matthews played 19:38. Those are more optimal ice times instead of depending on them for 24 minutes in order to win. Ryan Reaves played the least at 9:39, but he fought in the first period. Next up, it was Noah Gregor at 11:42.
Fraser Minten played 14 minutes on the dot and had a few scoring opportunities created for him by linemates. In general, he looked more relaxed compared to the first game.
On defense, Morgan Rielly led all skaters with 21:26 and John Klingberg was just behind him at 21:02. Mark Giordano was at the bottom with 15:51. There is a clear top five and then Giordano, but I’m not sure they have anyone else in the organization who can give them roughly 16 reasonable minutes the way Giordano can so long as Conor Timmins is hurt.