Following a rather impressive start to the season, the Toronto Maple Leafs were considered one of the best teams in the NHL over the first 3 weeks. Scoring at an impressive rate, Toronto lead the league in goals for a better part of the month. Majority of the teams scoring came from usual suspects, Auston Matthews and John Tavares.
As the over exaggerated scoring began to simmer down, Toronto encountered a few bumps in the road nearing the end of the month which consisted of failing to score against Pittsburgh and only finding the back of the net once against St. Louis, both coming in blow out losses. The Maple Leafs were able to climb out of the mini hole they dug, playing two unbelievable bounce back games against the Winnipeg Jets. Toronto played good systematic hockey on both sides of the puck, holding the high powered offensive Jets to just four goals over two games. Toronto scored seven. Although, that had much to do with the outstanding play by Frederik Andersen who made 64 saves over that span, Toronto did limit their defensive breakdowns and turnovers and spent most of both games in the offensive zone.
Not all was good that came from the back to back games against the Jets, as Auston Matthews was injured following a crushing body check by Winnipeg defencemen Jacob Trouba. The injury looked serious the moment contact was made. Matthews seemed unable to move his shoulder while attempting to make his way back to the bench. This is similar to Matthews right shoulder injury that kept him out of 10 games late last season. Adding both injuries together, that’s twice in eight months Matthews has been kept out of the lineup for an abundance of games – not to mention another shoulder injury he sustained in junior – this is troublesome.
Matthews scored 10 goals in his first 11 games and chipped in another 6 assists for 16 points on the year. He was on pace to score over 60 goals – an impressive milestone to reach, especially at such a young age. Although destined for greatness, Matthews again is sidelined for a significant amount of time, hindering his chances at contesting for the “Art Ross” or “Rocket Richard” trophies.
This is yet another challenge the Maple Leafs must overcome to continue on their path towards the Stanley Cup; at least this time they came prepared. With the addition of John Tavares, Toronto is still exceptionally talented at the centre position. The Maple Leafs have the depth in the lineup to move players up and down all while continuing to score and succeed. Par Lindholm and Frederik Gauthier will man the centre position on the 3rd and 4th line.
Toronto will be just fine without Matthews in the lineup as they have done this on numerous occasions before. The Maple Leafs will have to rely heavily on their 11 million dollar man JT, and the supporting cast including the likes of Kadri, Marner and surprising goal scorer Kasperi Kapanen. If Toronto can find their goal scoring by committee and Freddie can remain steady, they will be in good shape leading up to Matthews return.