”Nice,” Matthews said after scoring twice for a league-leading nine goals to help Toronto beat Detroit 5-3 Thursday night.
Matthews is the third player in franchise history to score in the first five games of a season.
”He had a fast start last year, too, unfortunately he got injured,” Toronto coach Mike Babcock said. ”He’s a big man. He’s really worked hard on his body. He’s worked hard on his skating and all parts of his game. With and without the puck, he’s better.”
Morgan Rielly had a goal and an assist, giving him 12 points to surpass Bobby Orr’s strong start during the 1973-74 season. Among defensemen, Rielly trails only Harry Cameron, who had 15 points in the Toronto Arenas’ first five games of the 1917-18 season.
”I’m not going to address personal stuff,” Rielly said. ”I think it’s more important to move on.”
Nick Jensen gave the Red Wings a 1-0 lead midway through the first period and scored a second goal midway through the third to pull them within a goal.
”It’s never as sweet when you get the goals but you don’t get the win,” he said.
Soon after Jensen’s second goal, Matthews took advantage of a power play by scoring his second goal of the game.
Detroit pulled within a goal again when a review determined Dylan Larkin scored with 6:04 left in the game. The Red Wings pulled Jimmy Howard to add an extra skater, but Ron Hainsey scored an empty-net goal to seal the win.
”I didn’t like the third,” said Babcock, a former Detroit coach. ”We didn’t take care of the puck as good and we didn’t keep our foot on the gas.”
Howard had 30 stops for the rebuilding Red Wings, who have lost their first four games for the first time since the 1980.
”Bits and pieces of the game we did some of the good things, but it wasn’t enough done right,” Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall said.
John Tavares, the top prize in free agency last summer, had four assists for the Atlantic Division-leading Maple Leafs, winners of three straight.
”It’s great for the all the guys who are doing some scoring right now,” Babcock said. ”It makes you feel good. In the end, though, it’s about winning. It doesn’t really matter who does the scoring as long as you find a way to win. It’s an exciting time for our team, but we’ve got to get a lot better.”
NOTES: Matthews joined Sweeney Schriner (1944-45) and Corb Denneny (1921-22) in team history as the three players who scored in each of its first five games in a season. … The Red Wings announced before the game they will retire Hall of Famer Red Kelly’s No. 4 jersey on Feb. 1, 2019, when they host Toronto. Kelly played in Detroit from 1947-60 and for the Maple Leafs from 1960-67. Toronto retired his jersey two years ago. … Jensen has scored three of the six goals in his career against Toronto. The defenseman did not score in 81 games last season and had four the previous season as a rookie.
1. Jonathan Toews– The Blackhawks followed their game one script in game two, although beating the Blues feels like a bigger accomplishment than eking out a win against the Senators (though people will note that Ottawa has a win and St. Louis does not). Regardless, for the second consecutive game, the Blackhawks rode fantastic performances from their star players.
Toews was strong in Chicago’s first win, yet Saturday was his standout night, as he generated a hat trick, with that third goal coming in OT on a head’s up play. His other two goals were very Toews goals: grinding tallies in the dirty areas of the net.
(While Toews was second to Patrick Kane in Chicago’s first win, Kane was slightly behind Toews in this one, collecting a goal and an assist.)
2. Tyler Seguin – Consider this a collective star assignment for the killer Stars top line of Seguin (two goals, two assists), Jamie Benn (two goals, one assist), and Alex Radulov (one goal, two assists).
While Dustin Byfuglien drew the Stars’ ire with a questionable hit, the Stars’ high-end firepower turned what would seem like a Central Division showdown into a laugher.
Seguin fired a whopping eight shots on goal, even going 9-3 in the faceoff circle during an impressive night in Dallas. He’s playing as if he’s in a contract year, rather than having already powered up with a Super Mario-sized contract extension.
3. John Gibson – Despite this being the leakiest time of the season for defenses, as teams get used to new systems and rookies get their first exposure to the NHL, there were some great goalie performances on Saturday.
Gibson stood just a little bit taller than some other goalie performances, grabbing another win for an injury-limited Ducks team by stopping all 41 shots to shut out the snakebitten Coyotes.
Much like Seguin, the would-be contract year case is playing as if his extension hasn’t already been settled, winning his first two games while stopping 72 of the first 74 shots he’s faced in 2018-19. If Gibson can stay healthy through 2018-19, he might truly get his recognition as one of the league’s brightest young goalies.
(Andrei Vasilevskiy, another of the NHL’s brightest young goalies, stole one for Tampa Bay against Florida in his own right.)
Most honorable among many honorable mentions:
Thomas Chabot factored in a big way in the Senators’ surprise win against the Maple Leafs, scoring two goals and one assist. It’s hasty to make “Erik Who?” jokes regarding departed defenseman Erik Karlsson, but … you know what, Sens fans? You’ve suffered enough. Go ahead.
Elias Pettersson enjoyed a sensational start to his night, scoring his two goals and one assist through the first two periods of Vancouver’s eventual loss to the Flames, as Johnny Gaudreau‘s line came through with what ended up being comparable box score numbers to the latest sensational Vancouver rookie.
Again, there were a lot of other great performances on Saturday, so feel free to share your picks for honorable mentions, or alternate three stars.
Highlight of the Night
Both of Thomas Chabot’s goals were pretty fantastic against Toronto, but this one really takes the cake:
The Coyotes were haunted by an “0-fer” last season, as they didn’t win a game in October. With that in mind, they must be that much more frustrated after failing to score a goal on 71 shots on net through their first two games of 2018-19, including 41 saves from Gibson on Saturday.
Arizona’s low point probably came late in tonight’s game, as they were unable to tie a 1-0 game with a 5-on-3 power play that was essentially 6-on-3 at times when Antti Raanta was pulled from the Coyotes net.
Winning is tough in the NHL, and sometimes scoring is, too.
1. Auston Matthews: With a booming shot to tie the game up 1-1, Matthews made a compelling argument that he probably deserved more reps on the Maple Leafs’ power play unit all along. In overtime, Matthews took a great feed from Patrick Marleau and scored the overtime game-winner.
Matthews certainly wants to be more than this, but if an Austin Powers nickname doesn’t work (Ron Howard: “It doesn’t), then “Mr. Opening Night” could at least be a good placeholder for the American forward.
With a contract year providing that extra bit of human nature motivation, and hopefully a clean bill of health this season, Matthews could put together a truly massive 2018-19 season.
He’s already shown that he has a knack for making great first impression, as tonight’s two-goal performance inspires inevitable comparison to Matthews making NHL history with four goals in his first game. Sure, he scored half as many goals, yet the Maple Leafs won this time around.
Also, if you’re into this sort of thing: Matthews: 2, John Tavares: 1.
2. John Gibson: Opening night featured quite a few similar performances for goalies. You could make a legitimate argument for any one of Frederik Andersen and Jacob Markstrom enjoyed very similar nights, propping up their teams during moments of duress.
Gibson justified his status as something of a critical darling with a night like this, largely stealing this game against a loaded Sharks team. He stopped 31 out of 33 shots, and both of San Jose’s goals were brilliant. It seemed like they needed to be.
Via Natural Stat Trick, the Sharks generated a 14-2 advantage in “high-danger” chances, but it didn’t matter. Gibson was that good.
Kuznetsov didn’t just stand out for scoring two goals (including a 2-0 tally that really started to dig the hole for Boston). The Russian center was a consistent nuisance for the Bruins, nearly netting a hat trick while firing five shots on goal.
As much as people wonder about Washington’s chances to repeat, consider that Kuznetsov generated 83 points last season, and might just be able to do that, well, back-to-back.
Highlight of the Night: Goodness gracious, Tomas Hertl scored a ridiculous shorthanded goal for the San Jose Sharks. It wasn’t enough to earn the Sharks a win or even a “charity point,” but it dropped jaws all the same.
It seems like the Canucks might be the Auston Matthews of NHL teams … at least when it comes to opening night. Elias Pettersson made quite the rookie first impression in his own right, collecting a goal and an assist.
As you can see in the video below, Montreal Canadiens forward Artturi Lehkonen scored the first goal of the 2018-19 NHL season, putting the Habs up 1-0 against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
This was a very “Lehkonen” goal, as he scored a heady goal on a wraparound. Habs fans would likely be delighted to see that Max Domi helped make the goal happen by creating some havoc in front of Frederik Andersen‘s net.
Check out footage of the goal:
The Canadiens put quite a bit of pressure on the Maple Leafs early on, but Toronto started to settle things down. Auston Matthews ended up tying the game up on what could be a dangerous Maple Leafs power play.
Toronto tends to kick off each NHL season on opening night, and in recent years, the Maple Leafs have been the one scoring that first goal.
Update: Matthews may not have scored the first goal of the season this time around, but he nabbed the game-winner in overtime, boosting Toronto to a 3-2 OT win. You can watch highlights of Toronto’s win in the video above this post’s headline.