NHL Notebook: Goals galore early in season

NHL Notebook: Goals galore early in season
Leafs lead NHLs goal explosion in seasons 1st week
TSN Toronto reporter Mark Masters checks in daily with news and notes on the Maple Leafs. The team practiced for 30 minutes at American Airlines Center in Dallas before flying to Detroit for Thursdays game against the Red Wings. 

The Maple Leafs have exploded out of the gate with a league-high 20 goals in four games. Thirteen of those goals have come from superstar centres Auston Matthews and John Tavares. The kid from Arizona has seven while the hometown hero has six. The pair will share the spotlight all season in Toronto. 

I think a great deal, said Tavares. Were both very driven and, obviously, you want to put yourself in that elite company and when youre able to go up against each other in practice and then play together, see what each other does on a daily basis, I think its very motivating and a lot of fun to be around. I think when you have the competitiveness that we have its just naturally going to push yourselves and make you better players.

Led by Matthews and Tavares, Toronto has won three of its first four games, averaging five goals per contest. Matthews has seven goals and three assists already. Tavares, who signed a blockbuster deal with his hometown Maple Leafs this summer, has scored five of his six goals in the past two games.

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Head coach Mike Babcock describes it as a friendly competition, one which will benefit the team as a whole. 

Toronto Maple Leafs center John Tavares (91) celebrates a goal against Dallas Stars goaltender Ben Bishop (30) as left wing Jamie Benn (14) watches in the second period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Richard W. Rodriguez)

When those guys are leading, I think the rest of the guys will follow suit,” said defenceman Morgan Rielly. When those guys are playing as well as they are, you know, it makes for a good feeling in the room. Guys want to up to the ante, their linemates want to be able to keep up and I think thats good. Thats contagious and thats what good teams do.

The Leafs grabbed control by scoring three times in the last 8:01 of the second period for a 5-2 lead. Matthews and Tavares scored on the power play, and Ron Hainsey put in a shot from the blue line at even strength for his first goal this season.

Making the duo all the more interesting is how different they appear to be. Matthews is a fashion-forward 21-year-old from Arizona while Tavares, 28, seems to be more reserved. What unites them is the pursuit of excellence.    

Toronto defenceman Morgan Rielly had a career-high four assists after he scored the winning goal in Sunday nights 7-6 overtime win at Chicago. Mitchell Marner had a goal and three assists as the Maple Leafs improved to 2-0 on a four-game trip.

Video: Tavares, Matthews each score twice in Leafs 7-4 win

The Maple Leafs have exploded out of the gate with 20 goals in four games. 13 of those goals have come from superstar centres Auston Matthews and John Tavares. The pair will share the spotlight all season in Toronto and have already engaged in a friendly competition to be the best, Mark Masters has more.

"What I like about the power play is were not trying to make any highlight-reel plays," Tavares said. "I think were just kind of sticking with our structure and what we believe is going to work for us."

Matthews, for example, worked on his skating throughout the summer and enters this season feeling more explosive than ever. Where is it helping him the most? 

I think just through the neutral zone,” he said. Sometimes you got to put the puck in and (get) there when the puck arrives and kind of being on top of their D, and (Im) just skating through the neutral zone and trying to get through guys and create those chances.

"When its always going in, its always a really good feeling," Matthews said. "You want to continue to generate chances because its going to get harder and harder as the season goes along."

Babcock is quick to point out Matthews was always a good skater and was only slowed a year ago by a series of injuries. 

Dallas top line continued to provide most of the Stars scoring. Seguin posted his second straight four-point game. Radulov scored for the third straight game, and Jamie Benn scored his third power-play goal.

Leafs reaching historic marks with goal roll

And yet, as good as he already was, teammates insist hes definitely a step faster now. 

The Stars tied it again at 9:04 of the second. Esa Lindell sent a long pass to Seguin in the neutral zone. He outmanoeuvred Hainsey and skated in alone on Andersen for a wrist shot inside the right goalpost.

“Hes taken it to a whole new level with speed,” said Rielly, “and the way he can cut back and create room for himself.”​

Stars defenceman John Klingberg scored 2:39 into the third, but Tavares converted a wraparound at 4:55 to restore the two-goal margin. Connor Brown added an empty-net goal at 16:40.

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The speed is one factor, but Matthews has also become even more elusive as well. 

“Hes always putting himself in a position to shoot the puck,” noted Mitch Marner. “Hes always moving out there and getting in open space.”

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Matthews spent about 10 minutes on the ice with Barb Underhill, the teams skating consultant, last week to fine-tune some of the adjustments they worked on in the summer. 

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Auston Matthews worked hard on his skating this summer and he believes his improvements are helping him most through the neutral zone. His teammates agree that he has taken his speed to a whole new level this season.

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Tavares, meanwhile, has impressed his new teammates with just how good he is down low in the offensive zone. Hes an expert at maintaining possession. 

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Hes really shifty,” noted Rielly, “and likes to use his size, has great hands and likes taking the puck to the net. He works very hard on his game and thats an area that he takes a lot of pride in.

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Maple Leafs reaching some historic marks with goal roll

“Its not a lot of fun playing the game without the puck and that, in itself, is very motivating,” Tavares said. “And its where you want to be, in the offensive end making plays and playing with it and not having to chase and work for it so, I dont know, maybe its that inner drive to win your battles.”

When he was recruited to the Leafs in the summer, Tavares told Babcock it was his preference to play the net-front role on the power play and so far hes fit in well on a stacked first unit, which has connected on five of 10 chances. 

What I like about the power play is were not trying to make any highlight-reel plays,” Tavares said after Tuesdays 7-4 win over the Dallas Stars. “I think were just sticking with our structure and what we believe is going to work for us and then trying to take whats been given and not try to force anything. I think when you do that, time after time, the odds tend to be in your favour, especially when weve got the type of guys weve got on the ice. Just keep taking whats given and continue to work at it and understand who were going up against on a nightly basis, what tendencies we face and make adjustments when we need to.

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What makes John Tavares so dominant down low in the offensive zone? According to Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock its because his stick is like a crowbar that cant be lifted off the ice.

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The Leafs lines remained unchanged at Wednesdays practice and thats no surprise considering how happy Babcock was with the win over Dallas. 

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I liked our game throughout much more than I have liked our other games, he said. “We had good intensity, good battle, everybody was focused, we had good detail in our game. I liked our game … That was actually the most engaged weve been. Weve done it once and now weve got to do it again.

Frederik Gauthier remains the fourth-line centre while Kasperi Kapanen continues to look good on the right side of Matthews. 

As mentioned, Rielly played tougher competition, as PK plays on a team with a deeper blue-line and gets much more favourable minutes. PK also spent 500 minutes paired with Mattias Ekholm, himself an elite player.   Rielly also had a worse partner in Ron Hainsey.  Much, much worse.  And he had a higher possession rating, relative to his team.

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Kappys had two and now Goats got to get to two, said Babcock. “You have to learn to do it every day. Those guys are in the process of figuring that out.”

Matthews, Tavares score two each as high-flying Leafs beat Stars

The Maple Leafs practised in Dallas on Wednesday before flying to Detroit for Thursdays game against the Red Wings. Frederik Gauthier continued to skate as the fourth-line centre and Kasperi Kapanen remained as the right winger on the Auston Matthews line. But both young players, head coach Mike Babcock warns, still have a lot to prove.

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DALLAS, TX – OCTOBER 09: Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Kasperi Kapanen (24) celebrates with his teammates a goal during the game between the Dallas Stars and the Toronto Maple Leafs on October 9, 2018 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. Toronto defeats Dallas 7-4. (Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock could see halfway through training camp that Auston Matthews was ready to explode.

Don’t look now, but Morgan Rielly sits in a tie for first place in league-wide scoring with 10 points, alongside fellow teammate Auston Matthews. The 24-year-old veteran has put together a ridiculous start to his campaign, seemingly scoring at will while looking like the true number one defenceman the Leafs so sorely lack.

Matthews leads the league with an eye-popping seven goals through four games following consecutive run-and-gun road wins for the Leafs — 7-6 in overtime against Chicago on Sunday and Tuesday's 7-4 victory against Dallas.

I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but William Nylander still hasn’t been signed. Shocking, I know. As the two sides continue their contractual stare down, the Leafs only continue to play meaningful hockey games and need someone to fill Nylander’s void for the time being.

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"I don't think it really surprises too many people," said Toronto winger Mitch Marner, who has also been lights out with two goals and six assists.

They have only played together for one game, but Kapanen’s presence elevated the line considerably as per Natural Stat Trick. A 53.13% Corsi-for, 61.14% of the shots and 55.56% of the scoring chances compared to the opponents, and 3 HDCF with only  2 against.”

Leafs teammate John Tavares sits second in the NHL with six goals heading into Wednesday's action, while defenceman Morgan Rielly (two goals, eight assists) is tied atop the points table with Matthews at 10.

But Toronto and its NHL-high 20 goals is far from the only team involved in the early offensive deluge.

Falling victim to the Mike Babcock’s final round of training camp cuts, Carrick was then shipped over to Dallas and immediately slotted into the top-four, rewarding his new team with 3 points in his first 2 games. By and large, Carrick’s looked good.

The first week of the young season also saw Washington beat Boston 7-0, Pittsburgh down the Capitals 7-6 in overtime, Calgary get past Vancouver 7-4, Carolina top the New York Rangers 8-5 and San Jose thump Philadelphia 8-2.

The regular season is finally upon us, and the Editor in Leaf staff have been working around the clock to bring you, our loyal readers, right into the middle of the action. Every angle has been covered, and every stone has been overturned.

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Eleven other games included at least seven goals, and it should be noted two-time defending Art Ross Trophy winner Connor McDavid and defensively-challenged Edmonton have played just once after starting the schedule in Europe.

There could be a number of factors why, at least early on, many boxscores look like they belong in the 1980s rather than 2018.

Its a small sample size and teams will no doubt begin to shore up the defensive zone in the coming weeks and months. But even with the inevitable regression from the leagues hot start, theres a good chance the 2018-19 season will see another recent offensive high-water mark.

Players switching teams, new systems, coaches being less likely to match lines in October and further reductions to the size of goalie equipment have all been floated as possible reasons.

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And not to take away from the impressive offensive performances, but there have been some equally dreadful showings in the crease — see the final few minutes of Toronto-Chicago as Exhibit A.

The former Hart and Vezina Trophy winner, who missed significant time through injury in 2017-18, has been forced into just 44 stops through more than 120 minutes of action for a .917 save percentage and 1.98 goals-against average.

Through the first week of 2018-19, NHL teams have combined to average 6.41 goals in 41 games, compared to the 6.09 through the first week of last season (45 games) for a jump of nearly a third of a goal per outing.

Eleven other games included at least seven goals, and it should be noted two-time defending Art Ross Trophy winner Connor McDavid and defensively-challenged Edmonton have played just once after starting the schedule in Europe.

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Toronto opened last season with a 7-2 victory over Winnipeg before Chicago thumped Pittsburgh 10-1 to kick off a campaign that would end with more scoring — 5.94 goals per game — than any since 2005-06.

It's a small sample size and teams will no doubt begin to shore up the defensive zone in the coming weeks and months. But even with the inevitable regression from the league's hot start, there's a good chance the 2018-19 season will see another recent offensive high-water mark.

The 39-year-old, who was limited to 47 games last season, is out with an infection that caused swelling in his surgically-repaired right knee. There's no timetable for Thornton's return after the club placed him on injured reserve.

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Florida goalie Roberto Luongo, meanwhile, was helped off the ice midway through his team's opener with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee. Luongo, also 39, will be sidelined up to a month.

Florida goalie Roberto Luongo, meanwhile, was helped off the ice midway through his teams opener with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee. Luongo, also 39, will be sidelined up to a month.

Matthews, Tavares score two each as Leafs beat Stars

Los Angeles netminder Jonathan Quick is on IR after suffering a lower-body injury, and Pittsburgh counterpart Matt Murray is out indefinitely with a concussion.

Philadelphia also got some bad news, with winger James van Riemsdyk set to miss up to six weeks with a lower-body injury.

It's only been two games, but maybe the pre-season predictions of another down year in Montreal were premature after the trade of captain Max Pacioretty to Vegas.

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The Canadiens outworked Toronto and deserved a better fate than the 3-2 overtime loss suffered in their opener before stunning the Penguins 5-1 in Pittsburgh.

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The former Hart and Vezina Trophy winner, who missed significant time through injury in 2017-18, has been forced into just 44 stops through more than 120 minutes of action for a .917 save percentage and 1.98 goals-against average.

Named captain before training camp, Justin Williams has already left a mark in the second season of his second stint with Carolina.

Williams, who turned 37 last week, led a slow clap on the ice with his teammates after Sunday's 8-5 home victory over the Rangers. The players then skated two-thirds of the rink and playfully jumped up against the glass — mimicking rookie Andrei Svechnikov's celebration following his first NHL goal.

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"We wanted something so we can get together with the fans a little bit and connect," Williams said this week. "It was a nice little send off."

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