What a weekend for the boys in blue and white. The team had some extreme highs and lows all weekend long. Everyone got a firsthand look at what the season is going to hold if things don't change quick, and Matthews and Tavares did some pretty cool things. It was fun, it was painful, at some points it was both of those things at once. On a weekend that was a bit of a disappointment, there were quite a few bright spots to look at as well.
Game 1 - Leafs: 3, Sens: 5
The first game, Saturday night's game, was a bit of an embarrassment if you're the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Saturday night, first Hockey Night In Canada night of the year, and you're lucky enough to draw a bottom feeder in the Ottawa Senators. What do you do with this luxurious opportunity? Apparently, act like you've never seen the ice before.
Don't let the shot counter fool you, the Leafs were outplayed in almost every possible way on Saturday night. The defence was terrible, the offence couldn't bury their chances, even Frederik Andersen looked like the same October Andersen that we've seen in recent years (if you didn't already know, that's not good.)
I've heard the cries already, Jake Gardiner this, Jake Gardiner that, and I get it, believe me, but let's not go out here and pretend like Jake Gardiner is the reason this d-core can't seem to contain any sort of attack. Apart from Morgan Rielly, who did everything he could to try and pull out a win, the entire defence decided they didn't want to show up. Numerous times throughout the game, both players on the d-pairing were out of position, and Ottawa had a clear lane to a golden scoring opportunity.
The blame can't solely be placed on the defencemen though. Everyone knows what that unit is all about. A bunch of skilled skaters, who are great with the puck, but not so reliable in their own end. If everyone else in the world knows it, then obviously the forwards do too right? So why is it that the team defence is nowhere to be found?
You don't have to look any further than the first Thomas Chabot goal to see exactly what I'm talking about. Yes, Jake Gardiner is way out of position, and Nikita Zaitsev doesn't look a whole lot better, but take a look at what Tyler Ennis is doing when Chabot is walking in from the point. Chabot cuts across the blue line, and Tyler Ennis skates full tilt at him and decides that a weak poke check is the way to go. Chabot steps around that with ease and gets a shot off on goal. To make matters worse, Ennis turns around and does his best 2007 Alexander Ovechkin impression, as Chabot walks in and picks up his own rebound.
Ennis definitely isn't the only issue on the front end, but he didn't help his own case on that play. The problem here, is that everyone else is following suit. There seems to be a serious lack of defensive awareness in the repertoire of any of the forwards. I know it's still really early, but if the Leafs can't lock this down early, then they are going to struggle to find postseason success.
Morgan Rielly was flying out there. The Leafs top d-man tallied a goal and an assist while racking up five shots on goal. Rielly was hands down the best defender that the leafs had on the ice.
Auston Matthews shot is still incredible, and boy did he show it off on his goal on Saturday.
Mitch Marner did a very Mitch Marner thing on that cross crease pass to Morgan Rielly. Including pre-season, Mitch Marner is looking a lot like the player he was at the end of last year as opposed to the player he was at the beginning of last year.
Game 2 - Leafs: 7, Blackhawks: 6
7 goals...... 7 GOALS! This team is a literal circus act. I don't even know where to start.
For starters, the NHL needs to get a better camera system around both nets. With the technology we have today, you'd think they could put something together that leaves no question as to whether or not a goal is a good goal or not. Was the Toews goal a high stick? Maybe, maybe not, but we'll never really know.
Sure I could talk about the defence again, but you're gonna get real bored of the same conversation for a little while at least. So instead, let's talk about what a treat that Matthews-Kapanen combination was.
Obviously it's well known that Kasperi Kapanen is a speed demon on the ice. That speed, paired with Auston Matthews' vision and raw talent is a gift sent from above. That Karlsson-esque pass from Matthews, right to the tape of a streaking Kapanen for an easy breakaway goal was a thing of beauty on its own. Then, to have Kapanen return the favour, sending Matthews a perfect pass in front of the net to let him do his thing. It's hard to imagine that line being split up anytime in the near future.
After that, the game was a roller coaster of emotions for both sides. Back and forth, neither team giving an inch, right down to the last minute.
In that last minute, we saw one of the more interesting storylines of the night. The Patrick Kane - Auston Matthews passing of the torch will one day happen; on this night, however, Patrick Kane was not going to let that happen.
Matthews scored a beautiful goal to give the Leafs the lead late, all the while celebrating with a Hulk Hogan like celebration, putting his hand to his ear, listening for nothing but silence from the crowd. It was less than 30 seconds later that Patrick Kane ripped a shot from the high slot, beating Garrett Sparks on a deflection and throwing the celebration right back at Matthews.
It was fun to see the "best American born player" rivalry between the two foes get ignited while Kane still has the ability to keep up. One day that torch will be passed, but for now, let's enjoy the rivalry while we still can.
Well... that Tavares guy is pretty good eh? The Leafs prized off-season acquisition netted his first hat trick as a Leaf with ease. If he can keep this up, Leafs fans are in for a fun ride.
This may be a personal opinion, but let's not get too down on Garrett Sparks. Yes, you'd like to have your goaltender not let in six goals, but when he's hung out to dry on at least three of those goals, it's real hard to blame the kid.
I don't know if you've heard, but that Auston Matthews kid can shoot the puck. Matthews had three goals over the weekend, each one a nicer shot than the last.
Last Minute of Play
The Leafs continue their road trip this week with stops in Dallas tonight, Detroit on Thursday, then Washington on Saturday to face the defending champs. With the fire power of both Dallas and Washington coming up this week, the Leafs will have to get their team defence sorted out, and fast.
If I'm running this team, I keep that Matthews, Kapanen, Marleau line together for a little while to see what kind of magic they have. I also slot in Justin Holl in Martin Marincin's spot to see if that can give the defence a little more life.