In a lot of ways the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 5-4 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday night was the perfect way for them to start the season.
It pretty much captures just about everything we should expect from them over the next six months.
It featured Auston Matthews, the top pick in the 2016 draft and the player that represents the hopes and dreams of a fan base that is a desperate for a winner, having one of the greatest debuts in NHL history by scoring all four Maple Leafs goals.
By doing so he became the first rookie to ever score four goals in his NHL debut, and became one of just 22 players currently active in the NHL to have a four-goal game in their career.
Along with all of the goals, he was pretty much the best player on the ice every time he went over the boards. He dominated. He was great. He was everything the Maple Leafs — and the NHL, for that matter — could have hoped for his debut to be. That is something that should continue all season.
But in the end, the Maple Leafs still lost.
That, too, is something that will probably continue this season. Even with the wave of young talent that is hitting the roster, including William Nylander and Mitch Marner up front, it is still a team that is woefully short on talent in other key areas, especially on defense. It did not help matters on Wednesday that goalie Frederik Andersen, also making his Maple Leafs debut after coming over in an offseason trade with Anaheim and signing a five-year contract, had a brutal night in the crease.
But the important thing for the Maple Leafs on Wednesday — and the important thing for them the rest of this season — is that Matthews looked like the player they hope he can become, and so much more.
The rest of the NHL was already taking notice as current and former players were reacting on Twitter as Matthews would not stop scoring goals.
A brief sampling.
Former Maple Leafs enforcer Frazer McLaren asked what the big deal was, pointing out that he, too, scored four goals … in his career. [@FrazerMcLaren68]
Retired NHL superstar Martin St. Louis compared his performance to watching a mite hockey game where there is that one player that is just better than everybody else. [@Mstlouis_26]
Matthews’ coach, Mike Babcock, a man that does not always seem to be easily impressed by anything that happens during a game, said it was the most enjoyable night he has had as Maple Leafs coach.
In other words: It was not only an amazing debut, it was simply an amazing game for any player in an era where scoring four goals in a single game might happen once or twice in a season across the entire league. The fact that it was Matthews, an already anticipated top pick playing for team that is based in the center of the hockey universe, means that hype is going to reach almost unimaginable levels in the coming days.
That is not necessarily a bad thing.
Matthews not only represents hope for the Maple Leafs, he is one of the NHL’s bright young stars that represents hope for the entire league.
Again, this is an era where scoring has dipped to near record lows.
Players that can have games like this are starting to become few and far between.
For one night — his first night in the league! — Matthews demanded the attention of the entire league and had every person watching in anticipation of what he was going to do next when the puck was on his stick. Is all of this over the top for one night, in a game where his team still ended up losing? Probably.
But it’s OK to embrace that excitement and enjoy it in the moment.
Even though the Maple Leafs rebuild is starting to take shape, this current team is still still all about the anticipation and hope of what it could one day become. And on Wednesday night Matthews gave them a lot of that hope.
Even if the overall result was more of the same.