Maple Leafs News: Matthews, the Line Blender and Babcock

The Toronto Maple Leafs are slowly easing their way into the young 2017-18 season. They’ve performed extremely well so far and sit with a record of 4-1. That start is good enough for eight total points which ties them with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Red Wings for first in the Atlantic division.

The Leafs have had some extremely exciting and satisfying wins in the past few days and a lot of the praise can fall on the shoulders of the young pivot named Auston Matthews.

Hard to Contain

Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs
Matthews and Nylander are driving much of the Toronto offense. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Matthews has been an absolutely incredible player for the Leafs. After being drafted first overall in 2016, the American stepped right into the lineup and was a revelation.

He scored 40 goals and 69 total points on his way to winning the Calder trophy as the NHL’s best rookie. Matthews has picked up right where he left off last year and currently leads the team with five goals and eight total points. Two of those five goals have been overtime winners against both the Chicago Blackhawks and the Montreal Canadiens.

He used the summer to prepare himself for the rigors of his second NHL season and has come flying out of the gate. It’s not just the goal scoring either. Matthews does all the little things right in the defensive zone and is a massive possession driver for Toronto as well.

His efforts also earned him the NHL’s Second Star of the Week honours. His level of play also has some discussing his name in the MVP conversation. I think it’s too early to start talking about that, but Matthews is hugely valuable to the Leafs and continues to shine as his NHL career continues.

Lineup Shuffle

Mitch Marner Leafs 2017
Marner in action against the Washington Capitals. (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)

The Maple Leafs have scored a ton of goals to start the 2017-18 campaign. With dangerous players like Matthews, William Nylander and Patrick Marleau slotted throughout the lineup, the Leafs boast a potent offense.

One young star has had a bit of trouble finding his groove early on this season. Mitch Marner, the former London Knight, has been uncharacteristically quiet. There are a couple of reasons for speculation.

Marner contracted mono in the latter half of last season. Mono really saps your energy and strength levels and can linger in the body for anywhere between 6-12 months. Marner may still be battling some of the effects and trying to get his body back up to speed.

Marner is the driver of offense on his line with Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk. Last year he routinely set them up with ridiculous passes while also driving the majority of possession. While he does have four points in five games to start the year, Marner has been more a passenger on the line this year.

Mike Babcock has shuffled the lines at practice and Marner is riding shotgun with Matt Martin and Dominic Moore, while Connor Brown shimmies up to the Bozak and van Riemsdyk line.

Marner is too talented to be down for long. Having Brown playing up in the lineup is an encouraging sign as well. He never quits on the play and is a versatile addition wherever he’s slotted in to play. I wouldn’t read too much into the shuffle, as Babcock is just trying to help Marner break a slump and to balance the scoring even further.

Winning Pedigree

Mike Babcock continues to win wherever he goes. The head coach of the Maple Leafs has won just about everything there is to win in the NHL and in hockey in general through his years of coaching. With the Leafs win against Montreal this past Saturday, Babcock has now collected his 600th career NHL victory. 

Those 600 career wins are split between three separate franchises. The first was the Anaheim Mighty Ducks then the Detroit Red Wings and currently the Toronto Maple Leafs. It’s an incredible achievement for the coach, who is nowhere near done in the NHL. The numbers at the end of his career are sure to be a sight to behold.