Toronto Maple Leafs: Kapanen and Matthews Are a Dynamic Duo

Toronto Maple Leafs: Kapanen and Matthews Are a Dynamic Duo
Leafs Rielly continues historic start in win vs. Red Wings
DETROIT — Auston Matthews heard the short list of NHL greats he joined by scoring nine times in the first five games of the season.

Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Marleau, Mario Lemieux and Mike Bossy are the only other players in league history to pull off the feat.

Matthews scores two more as Maple Leafs beat Red Wings

“Nice,” Matthews said after scoring twice for a league-leading nine goals to help Toronto beat Detroit 5-3 Thursday night.

The 2018-19 NHL season is only a week old, but the rumor mill is already beginning to take center stage. There are several buzzworthy stories making headlines in the early going, which amplifies the chances of an eventual blockbuster trade.

“He had a fast start last year, too, unfortunately he got injured,” Toronto coach Mike Babcock said. “Hes a big man. Hes really worked hard on his body. Hes worked hard on his skating and all parts of his game. With and without the puck, hes better.”

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Morgan Rielly had a goal and an assist, giving him 12 points to surpass Bobby Orrs strong start during the 1973-74 season. Among defencemen, Rielly trails only Harry Cameron, who had 15 points in the Toronto Arenas first five games of the 1917-18 season.

Leafs Kapanen taking advantage of best friend Nylanders absence

Nick Jensen gave the Red Wings a 1-0 lead midway through the first period and scored a second goal midway through the third to pull them within a goal.

Red Wings to retire Hall of Famer Red Kellys No. 4 in February

Soon after Jensens second goal, Matthews took advantage of a power play by scoring his second goal of the game.

Kelly broke into the NHL as a 20-year-old with the Red Wings in the 1947-48 season and skated 13 years on the blue line in Detroit. As a Red Wing, he played in 846 games and scored 162 goals and 472 points. He also won four Stanley Cups in the 1950s with them and the first Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenceman in 1953-54.

Detroit pulled within a goal again when a review determined Dylan Larkin scored with 6:04 left in the game. The Red Wings pulled Jimmy Howard to add an extra skater, but Ron Hainsey scored an empty-net goal to seal the win.

“Hes skating great,” Blashill said. “I think he looks awesome. Hes done a good job in the last year of really, I think, getting his skating back in a good spot. I think hes looked good through most of the year, had a setback there, but I thought yesterday he looked good. At the end of the day, hes really smart, real good poise with the puck and still an excellent passer. I think he was a No. 1 defenceman in this league for a good amount of time, probably overshadowed for most of his career, probably in my opinion didnt get the credit he deserved at all. I think hes still a real good player when hes out there because of the fact that hes real smart, moves the puck well and helps everybody around him be a better player.”

Video: Matthews nets two, Tavares adds four assists in win

“I didnt like the third,” said Babcock, a former Detroit coach. “We didnt take care of the puck as good and we didnt keep our foot on the gas.”

Howard had 30 stops for the rebuilding Red Wings, who have lost their first four games for the first time since the 1980.

“Bits and pieces of the game we did some of the good things, but it wasnt enough done right,” Detroit defenceman Niklas Kronwall said.

While the Leafs have proven they can score as well as any team in the league (Toronto had a league-leading 20 goals-for heading into Thursday night), they also claimed the third-highest goals against at 17. As loose as the Leafs like to play up front, theyve too often done the same in their own end, showcasing poor defensive structure and some nights getting below average goaltending. For the most part against Detroit, the Leafs were able to shore up in both areas. Making his fourth start of the season, Andersen was as good as hed been since the teams first game against Montreal, thwarting some superb chances by Athanasiou (who prior to his breakaway chance in the third was stoned by Andersen on a clean close-range look), Dylan Larkin and Thomas Vanek. He was the much less busy goaltender with Jimmy Howard seeing twice as many shots on the night, but Andersen stayed sharp when he needed to be, especially in the third period when Torontos old defensive woes returned and Detroit won the possession battle at a startling 80 per cent. Given that, the Red Wings were able to make things interesting, cutting the Leafs lead to 4-3 late in the third on a shot that barely made it over the goal line. But Andersen stood tall from there, making three straight controlled saves on point shots to prevent rebound chances. 

John Tavares, the top prize in free agency last summer, had four assists for the Atlantic Division-leading Maple Leafs, winners of three straight.

And its not the only slow start Toronto has experienced, either. Jake Gardiner had another roller-coaster night in Detroit as he tries to establish some consistency in his game this season. The blueliner contributed his usual handful of eye-catching passes, but was also losing battles along the boards and seemed to struggle against the Red Wings more physical game. When pressured, Gardiner was forced into turnovers in the Leafs end and got beat multiple times in one-on-one matchups, including against Andreas Athanasiou early in the third that turned into a highlight-reel scoring chance on Andersen. Too slow in making decisions at time, the Red Wings were able to disrupt the Leafs momentum in the neutral zone. Gardiner tied with Rielly for most points among Leafs defencemen last season, but has only two assists thus far in five games without the same threatening presence patrolling the blueline. The Leafs back end has been a question mark for Toronto since last season, and the sooner Gardiner can get back into a good rhythm, all the better for the Leafs defensive prospects going forward. He closed out Thursdays game at minus-1 in 19:42 of ice time.

“Its great for the all the guys who are doing some scoring right now,” Babcock said. “It makes you feel good. In the end, though, its about winning. It doesnt really matter who does the scoring as long as you find a way to win. Its an exciting time for our team, but weve got to get a lot better.”

NOTES: Matthews joined Sweeney Schriner (1944-45) and Corb Denneny (1921-22) in team history as the three players who scored in each of its first five games in a season. … The Red Wings announced before the game they will retire Hall of Famer Red Kellys No. 4 jersey on Feb. 1, 2019, when they host Toronto. Kelly played in Detroit from 1947-60 and for the Maple Leafs from 1960-67. Toronto retired his jersey two years ago. … Jensen has scored three of the six goals in his career against Toronto. The defenceman did not score in 81 games last season and had four the previous season as a rookie.

NOTES: Matthews joined Sweeney Schriner (1944-45) and Corb Denneny (1921-22) in team history as the three players who scored in each of its first five games in a season. … The Red Wings announced before the game they will retire Hall of Famer Red Kellys No. 4 jersey on Feb. 1, 2019, when they host Toronto. Kelly played in Detroit from 1947-60 and for the Maple Leafs from 1960-67. Toronto retired his jersey two years ago. … Jensen has scored three of the six goals in his career against Toronto. The defenceman did not score in 81 games last season and had four the previous season as a rookie.

The Toronto Maple Leafs No. 1 defender matched Bobby Orrs somewhat-arbitrary, but undeniably impressive 45-year-old record for the most points by a defender through the first five games of a season (in the modern era, of course) by notching his 11th and 12th in Thursdays matchup versus the Detroit Red Wings.

“Its great for the all the guys who are doing some scoring right now,” Babcock said. “It makes you feel good. In the end, though, its about winning. It doesnt really matter who does the scoring as long as you find a way to win. Its an exciting time for our team, but weve got to get a lot better.”

And to equal Orr, it was no cheapie. Rielly absolutely powdered a drop pass from Mitch Marner after jumping into the rush in transition to match his mark, before surpassing it with a primary assist later on.

The Leafs Auston Matthews is beating goalies with pinpoint precision

(By the way for all you history buffs, a defenseman with the Toronto Arenas named Harry Cameron actually had nine goals and 15 points through five games over 100 years ago in the NHLs founding season, but, yknow, things have changed a bit).

Rielly maintains the provisional league lead in points by one over goal-scoring machine and teammate Auston Matthews.