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Maple Leafs admit to catering to Auston Matthews' historic goal chase


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Dean Chaudhry
April 18, 2024  (3:23 PM)
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Auston Matthews surveilling the landscape ahead of a face-off on the road in Nashville
Photo credit: Mike Brehm - USA Today Sports

Most of the hockey world - if not all - were tuned in on Auston Matthews' chase for 70 goals on Wednesday night. Unfortunately, he did not reach that milestone, and more importantly, it became more of a distraction than anything else for the players and the team.

Matthews' historic season came to a close last night with the Toronto Maple Leafs losing 6-4 to the Tampa Bay Lightning and rolling into the post-season on a 4-game winless streak. Suffice it to say, the Leafs looked out of touch, especially in the final two games, as it became very apparent and evident that they were trying to cater more to Matthews scoring 70 goals than actually playing as a team and winning the games.
Matthews fired 17 shots on goal in the final 2 games and 24 shots on goal after scoring goal #69 against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night. The issue wasn't that Matthews was firing at will, it was more so the fact that the team was force-feeding him every time he was on the ice, making it very easy to defend. It's not like the Leafs desperately needed the 2 points in either game to change their placing in the standings but they are entering the playoffs on a slump and are set to play their Achilles heel in the Boston Bruins.
The other issue is that Matthews was scoring at will before the final 2 games of the season as well, so it was a little unnecessary. His approach had been the same all season long as evidenced by his 15 goals in a 16-game stretch from the 14th of March to the 13th of April or even the 55 goals he scored dating back to the 2nd of December, which was a stretch of just 58 games. The pressure was surely mounting, he was pressing a little as well with history in his sight-lines, but it didn't help that the whole world knew exactly what the Leafs were trying to do whenever he stepped foot onto the ice.
Matthews himself acknowledged that he really wanted the goal but has to sit with the fact that he was one shy of becoming the first player since 1992-93 and the first Leaf ever to reach that lofty height. 69 goals in 81 games is still a fantastic honour and he's the first player in the salary-cap era to score more than 65 goals in a season.
T.J. Brodie was one of the goal scorers in last night's defeat and he ended up snapping his 111-game goal-less streak. It was his first goal since December 31st, 2022, against the Colorado Avalanche but even he admitted after the game that he was trying to aim for Matthews' stick at the front of the net and that his sights were set on the assist, and not scoring a goal himself.
"One hundred percent," Brodie said when asked if he was aiming for Matthews' stick. "You know, it would have been nice to see him get 70 tonight. Unfortunately, the post got in the way."
Now that the distraction is over with, we can celebrate the 2023-24 season knowing that Matthews led the league in goals for the 3rd time in his career and for the 3rd time in the last 4 seasons. The Leafs are going to need him to produce at the same level in the post-season with the big, bad Bruins being their first-round opponent.
The 26-year-old has 22 goals and 44 points in 50 career playoff games, including 9 goals and 20 points in his last 18 games - a stretch of 2 post-season appearances. However, he only has 6 goals and 8 points in 14 playoff games against the Bruins with a -7 rating, including a brutal run in 2018 where he just scored once in the 7-game series. Thankfully, there's no more Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara to worry about this time around.
Matthews' chase for 70 goals wasn't the only milestone in sight as William Nylander came just short of his first ever 100-point campaign. He fell 2 points shy of that mark and only recorded 1 goal and 5 points in his final 13 games, which included the final stretch-run of 9 games where he went without a goal and just tallying 3 assists. Alongside Matthews, the Maple Leafs will need Nylander firing on all cylinders to get past the first round.
Source: The Hockey News'Would Have Been Nice To See Him Get 70 Tonight': TJ Brodie Snaps Longest Active Goal-Scoring Drought But Would Have Rather Goal Went to Auston Matthews
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Maple Leafs admit to catering to Auston Matthews' historic goal chase

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