It’s early. Fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs have held their collective breath during all three of the Maple Leafs’ games so far with Montreal, Ottawa and Chicago all giving them a run for their money during their opening contests this past week.
While the team is still looking to work out some quirks – while they await any sort of decision on William Nylander – they have managed four out of a possible six points early on. That said, defence has certainly been an issue so far and while the Maple Leafs find some way of stopping the bleeding in their own end, their offence hasn’t struggle much with the addition of John Tavares and the absence of Nylander.
With that, here’s a look back on some of the storylines from the past week of Maple Leafs hockey.
Matthews’ Hot Hands Leading Way
Forget the fact that the newcomer – Tavares – has tallied four goals in three games, including a hat trick against the Chicago Blackhawks. It’s the younger superstar – Auston Matthews – that has led the way offensively for the Maple Leafs through the first three games.
Matthews has five goals and eight points, including multipoint performances in each of the first three contests for the blue and white.
Auston Matthews has collected at least two points in each of the @MapleLeafs’ first three games of 2018-19.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) October 8, 2018
His hot start has him temporarily atop the NHL in scoring and tied with Jonathan Toews with five goals. While his first two seasons in the league showed just how talented the 21-year-old was, this season could be an even better opportunity for Matthews to showcase just how good he actually is.
The addition of Tavares has opened up more opportunity for Matthews both at even strength and on the power play and the center has flourished so far because of it.
But, don’t forget Tavares either. Along with Matthews, he’s one of just four Maple Leafs players to record a hat trick within his first three games with the franchise in the league’s modern era (since 1943-44), according to the NHL’s public relations department.
Back-Up Sparking Debate
While the offence has done its job so far this season, the same can’t exactly be said about the team’s defensive zone coverage. In three games, the Maple Leafs have given up 13 goals – an average of 4.3 goals per game. Now, they have picked up two wins, but that won’t last with opponents clicking at that high of a rate.
While the defensive play can be blamed to some extent, questions will certainly circle around the ability of back-up Garret Sparks and whether or not he will be able to step in when Frederik Andersen needs a day off.
Former back-up Curtis McElhinney was grabbed off waivers by the Carolina Hurricanes and started for the ‘Canes shortly after. He allowed just one goal on 32 shots and recorded the win for the Hurricanes, while Sparks gave up six goals on 31 shots against the Blackhawks in his 2018-19 debut for the Maple Leafs.
Related: Maple Leafs Remain Pretenders
Now, let’s all relax. Each goaltender has only played one game this season and there’s a lot of time for those numbers to change. But that won’t stop the questions from circulating for the time being.
Kapanen Benefitting in Nylander’s Absence
Three games in and, still, there is no sign of a finish line in the Nylander negotiations. While some fans might be starting to get anxious, there’s one Maple Leafs forward that got an opportunity to play with Matthews and Patrick Marleau against Chicago – an opportunity that might not have been granted had Nylander been in the lineup.
Kasperi Kapanen jumped up to the Matthews’ line replacing Tyler Ennis following the Blackhawks early lead on Sunday. With the move, it didn’t take Kapanen long to make his mark, relishing in his new role.
The 22-year-old played a season-high 15 minutes and recorded a goal and an assist in a matter of 34 seconds. He led all Maple Leafs (tied with Tavares) with seven shots on goal and he finished with a 58.33 Corsi-For Percentage at 5v5.
So while it would be nice to get Nylander back in the Maple Leafs lineup, it seems that Kapanen might be a good replacement on the Matthews-Marleau line until Nylander puts pen to paper.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.