The Toronto Maple Leafs pulled away for an easy 8-3 win against the Colorado Avalanche Wednesday. Auston Matthews scored a hat trick to lead the offense. The Maple Leafs are 10-1 in the past 11 games and, with 35 points, have climbed to the top of the NHL standings. The Leafs have played two more games than the Florida Panthers and one more than the Washington Capitals, the two teams tied with 33 points.
“This is a really special place to play,” said Auston Matthews after his hat trick. “It’s fun when the crowd gets going like that and we play as well as we did tonight.”
“It’s just Auston being Auston,” said Maple Leafs goaltender Jack Campbell. “He’s spectacular and he does it at both sides of the rink. It’s great to see him get rewarded with three goals tonight.”
“We played a really great team tonight,” said Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe. “But they had some adversity before the game with their goaltending and we capitalized on that.”
“That maybe makes the game feel a lot different than it really was,” Keefe continued. “I thought it was a lot closer than that.”
“I liked a lot of things about our game here today, but I don’t leave the game feeling like we dominated, or anything like that,” said Keefe.
To the takeaways…
1. Auston Matthews will score 50 goals this season
After offseason wrist surgery, Matthews took some time to get going. He did not play in the first three games and then scored one goal in the first six games. After his hat trick against the Avalanche, Matthews has 12 goals, with 68 shots on goal, in the past 15 games. He is generating a career high 4.43 shots on goal per game and if Matthews continues at that rate of shots for the next 58 games, he would need to score on 14.4% of his shots to reach the 50-goal mark.
For those that are inclined to wager, it’s probably worth sprinkling a little something on Matthews to lead the league in goals. He is seven behind Leon Draisaitl right now but generates so many shots.
“I like to think I can score in different ways,” said Matthews. “Sometimes it’s not going in and sometimes when it’s not going in you just go to the net, and bang home a garbage goal or something like that. Mitch made some unbelievable plays to me tonight.”
2. Michael Bunting is providing massive value
After contributing three assists in Toronto’s 8-3 win against Colorado, Bunting has nine points (2 G, 7 A) during a 5-game point streak.
He burst onto the NHL scene last year in Arizona, scoring 10 goals in 21 games for the Coyotes, and earned a two-year contract with the Maple Leafs, at a cap hit of $950,000 per season. Getting 17 points (6 G, 11 A) in 24 games from a guy who has landed a spot on the top line, for that price, is a difference-making bargain to get in a salary cap system.
“He’s great. He’s always in there, battling, fighting. He goes to the dirty areas and just competes,” said Auston Matthews about his left winger. “(Bunting) has been a lot of fun to play with. He gets to the net, hard. He obviously has a really good scoring touch as well, so he has been a really good complement to our line. He’s a great guy off the ice as well. We’ve had a lot of fun.”
3. Goaltending prevented this from being a truly fair fight
As Sheldon Keefe noted, the game was more lopsided because of Colorado’s shaky goaltending in the game. With Darcy Kuemper sidelined by an upper-body injury, and Pavel Francouz already out, Jonas Johansson was fed to the wolves in this game and he had a hard time controlling pucks around his crease, allowing the Maple Leafs to knock in rebounds.
Francouz is going to the AHL to play some games but if Kuemper is going to miss significant time, that is going to put the Avs in a tough spot in the short term when it comes to goaltending. A long-term tandem of Kuemper and Francouz with Johansson as the No. 3 should be just fine but if Johansson is forced into a starting role, that could cause some pain.
4. Weird night for Nazem Kadri
The former Maple Leaf buried two goals but was outscored 4-1 during 5-on-5 play. Kadri will be a free agent at the end of the season and is having a career year thus far, producing 29 points (9 G, 20 A) in 19 games.
5. John Tavares is an elite net front presence
The Maple Leafs captain had a goal and two assists against Colorado, his fourth consecutive multi-point game. He now has 25 points (11 G, 14 A) in 23 games and he really seems to clean up around the net. Tavares has always been great down low in the offensive zone but that seems to be getting even more emphasis in his game now.
TOR 3.27 COL 2.25
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