For the first time in his NHL career, Auston Matthews will take on his hometown Arizona Coyotes as they travel to Toronto for a Thursday night showdown.
The Leafs enter play on a bit of a slide, having lost two straight at home to the Colorado Avalanche and San Jose Sharks. They are 3-4-3 in their last 10 games and will look to turn that around against another struggling team.
The Coyotes sit 13th in the Western Conference only two points ahead of the last place Avalanche. With only two wins in their last 10 games, they too will undoubtedly be fighting for a big two points when the two clubs meet.
For Matthews, who has been the hottest Leaf as of late, it will be a special night. For the first time since growing up watching the Coyotes organization unfold, the star forward will have a chance to play against his childhood team.
“It definitely means a lot,” said Matthews in an article by Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston. “It’s where I grew up, it’s the team I watched.”
While some might think that it could affect his play, Matthews has three goals and four points in the past five games and seven goals and nine points in nine games since his 13-game goalless drought. His little hot streak has him back in the rookie scoring race just three points back of Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine with four games in hand.
This is the first meeting of the season between the two clubs with the second and final meeting coming next week just before the Christmas break.
The Leafs have an all-time losing record against the Coyotes (both Arizona and Phoenix). In 94 meetings, Toronto held a record of 35-50-8-1 giving up almost four goals per game against the southern counterpart.
Regardless of where they sit in the standings, the youth involved in this matchup should create for an exciting game both for the fans and for a guy like Matthews who likely won’t forget Thursday’s game anytime soon.
Arizona Coyotes at Toronto Maple Leafs
Air Canada Centre – 7:30 p.m. EST
Broadcast channels – SNO and FS-A PLUS
2016-17 Season Series: First meeting this season
Arizona Coyotes – 10-14-5 – 25 Points
Road Record: 4-9-3
Hot Players: Radim Vrbata and Alex Goligoski
Key Injuries: Max Domi, Connor Murphy and Brad Richardson
Brendan Perlini-Martin Hanzal-Radim Vrbata
Tobias Rieder-Jordan Martinook-Shane Doan
Jamie McGinn-Peter Holland-Anthony Duclair
Lawson Crouse-Christian Dvorak-Josh Jooris
Oliver Ekman-Larsson-Michael Stone
Alex Goligoski-Anthony DeAngelo
Jakob Chychrun-Luke Schenn
Toronto Maple Leafs – 11-11-6 – 28 Points
Home Record: 8-5-1
Hot Players: Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Frederik Andersen
Key Injuries: Martin Marincin and Joffrey Lupul
Leo Komarov-Nazem Kadri-Nikita Soshnikov
James van Riemsdyk-Tyler Bozak-Mitch Marner
Zach Hyman-Auston Matthews-William Nylander
Matt Martin-Ben Smith-Connor Brown
Morgan Rielly-Nikita Zaitsev
Jake Gardiner-Connor Carrick
Matt Hunwick-Roman Polak
[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]1)[/miptheme_dropcap]The Leafs have had trouble against the Coyotes in the past, but Andersen has had the chance to see them a little more than most Toronto players. In nine career games against the Coyotes, Andersen holds a 5-0-3 record with a 1.56 goals against average and a .941 save percentage.
[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]2)[/miptheme_dropcap]Three Leafs rookies continues to see among the top four first-year players in scoring (second, third and fourth to be exact). Matthews, Marner and Nylander have combined for 26 goals and 61 points in 28 games this season (with Nylander the only one having missed a game).
[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]3)[/miptheme_dropcap]With the game against Toronto, Shane Doan (1,495) will be just three games away from tying Mike Modano for 17th on the NHL’s all-time list with 1,499. Of those games, the Arizona captain has only played 29 career games against Toronto with eight goals and 20 points in that time.
[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]4)[/miptheme_dropcap]The Coyotes are only averaging 2.13 goals for per game on the road this season, giving up almost four per game in those 16 match-ups. They’ve scored a goal and a half less on the road than the number they’ve allowed.
[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]5)[/miptheme_dropcap]In comparison, the Leafs have scored 47 goals at home. They average 3.36 per game at the Air Canada Centre while giving up less than three to their visitors in their 14 home games so far this season.
While the Leafs have struggled over the past few games – including giving up a third period lead to the San Jose Sharks before losing in a shootout – they should be able to take advantage of a the struggling Coyotes. On paper the Leafs seem to have the advantage in net and in scoring. However, we all know that what the paper says doesn’t always dictate the flow of the game. That being said, with Matthews excited to play Arizona, expect him to and his teammates to come out flying which should play to their advantage.
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.