It has been no secret that Auston Matthews has been playing at the peak of his powers for the Toronto Maple Leafs so far this season, but his team were still able to get the job done, and do it incredibly well, without their uber-talented forward in the lineup on Saturday night.
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This season has proved to be the year of Auston Matthews with the 23-year-old producing at an insane rate, recording 18 goals in just 20 contests and also tallying 13 assists for 31 points, putting himself on pace for one hell of a year even in a shortened 56-game season.
He has simply been playing at an elite level and was flirting with the prospect of scoring 50 goals in a 56-game season, a rare accomplishment that is still very much on the cards by the way. And the thing that makes Matthew’s play this year even more remarkable is the fact that he has been doing it while struggling with a wrist injury.
That same injury flared up after Matthews crashed hard into the boards during the Maple Leafs’ Overtime win over the Calgary Flames on Wednesday night and, while not seen as a major concern, the stud forward was held out of Saturday’s game as more of a precaution and is expected back this week.
Toronto Maple Leafs shutdown Oilers without Auston Matthews
It maybe could not have come at a worst time, however, given that Toronto were coming up against a red hot Edmonton Oilers team last night, who had won eight out of 10 games prior to Saturday and were led by the dynamic duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who led the NHL in scoring with 40 and 34 points respectively.
While it was an opportunity for the Oilers to continue to gather momentum in the North Division, it was instead the Toronto Maple Leafs who decided to step up and produce arguably one of their most impressive games of the year as they played hard for the entire 60-minutes.
Now, granted, the Maple Leafs are hardly a one-man team given that they boast an abundance of riches aside from Matthews, including the likes of John Tavares, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Morgan Rielly and Frederik Andersen, while they also added a lot of depth during the offseason.
However, given just how elite Matthews has been this year, a drop-off would have been expected with him out of the lineup but, instead, others stepped up for the Maple Leafs and delivered what was a real statement win in more ways than one.
For starters, Toronto limited Connor McDavid to just one shot on goal all game and he finished the night with a-3 rating, his worst stat line in more than five years which probably tells you all you need to know about the game. Keep one of the best players on the entire planet quiet and you are likely to come away with the W.
There was more to that, however, as William Nylander and Mitch Marner both found twine, John Tavares recorded a two-point night with two assists, Zach Hyman provided some depth scoring and veteran Jason Spezza scored an absolute beauty.
The power play finally snapped out of a 0-for-12 slump after Nylander ripped a shot from the left circle past Mike Smith on the man advantage, and goalie Jack Campbell, playing in his first game in over a month after recovering from a leg injury, stopped all 30 shots he faced for his first shutout as a Maple Leaf.
It was just an impressive win for Toronto who got the job done for Campbell, who is arguably one of the most underrated backups in the NHL, they scored a goal in each period with three of them even-strength goals, they played as good a game defensively as you could wish for against the deadly duo of McDavid and Draisaitl, and the most impressive factor was that the Leafs didn’t commit a single penalty.
Basically, the Maple Leafs set the blueprint for how to shutdown and contain Edmonton’s two-headed monster, they played hard for the entire 60-minutes, they were disciplined throughout, everyone up and down the lineup contributed and John Tavares especially helped to fill the void left by Auston Matthews by winning 72 percent of his draws and laying on a multi-point night.
It was just a hell of an impressive effort by the Toronto Maple Leafs who improved to 16-4-2 on the year, they managed to do what most other teams can’t by completely stifling Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, they proved that they are a well-rounded team who can win in different ways and they did it all without their elite pure goalscorer in Auston Matthews. Watch out NHL, because the Toronto Maple Leafs really do look the real deal this year.