Set­ting new stan­dards

Matthews, Rielly, and the Leafs are rewrit­ing their own record books to start the sea­son

The Daily Press (Timmins) - - Sports - LANCE HORNBY

DAL­LAS — Lead, fol­low, or get out of the way.

That’s how you or­ga­nize a march and four games into their sched­ule, the Maple Leafs are get­ting com­fort­able in their roles, which has led to three wins, 20 goals and a string of early sea­son NHL scor­ing marks.

Of the vic­to­ries, Tues­day night’s in Dal­las was most sig­nif­i­cant for hard-to-please head­mas­ter Mike Bab­cock.

“The more skill the player has, the more room he has to be cre­ative,” Bab­cock said at Wed­nes­day’s prac­tice here. “You don’t have as much skill, you have to get in and forecheck. We’re for­tu­nate to have enough skill peo­ple and good team speed. (Tues­day) was one of the first nights you ac­tu­ally saw it, the most en­gaged we’ve been.

“To be a good team you have to learn how to be en­gaged ev­ery night and that’s the process we’re in. We’ve done it once, we have to do it again.”

When the fi­nal num­bers were tal­lied in the 7-4 win over the Stars, who were un­de­feated with just one goal against, Aus­ton Matthews and John Tavares had com­bined to tie a cen­tury-old league record for points, Matthews had the third­longest multi-point scor­ing streak to start a Leaf sea­son since the Sec­ond World War, and Mor­gan Rielly had more as­sists than any de­fence­men in the open­ing four games since the fran­chise be­gan in 1917.

“That’s petty cool,” Rielly said. “There’s a lot of luck in­volved when­ever that hap­pens. You take it with a grain of salt. But you keep go­ing. The team has done a good job of im­prov­ing our game ev­ery night.”

So far on this four-game road trip, Tavares cel­e­brated a hat trick in Chicago, Matthews scored a cou­ple of beau­ties here and Mitch Marner had four points. “When those guys are lead­ing the rest will fol­low suit,” Rielly said. “When they’re play­ing as well as they are, guys want to up the ante and their line­mates want to keep up. That’s con­ta­gious and that’s what good teams do.”

Bab­cock picked up on that theme.

“Ide­ally, they’re all push­ing each other to get bet­ter. That’s what hav­ing a lot of depth on your team is all about. You get a chance to get in, you want to play re­ally well.”

Kasperi Ka­pa­nen made the most of join­ing Matthews’s line on right wing the past two games, which bumped Tyler En­nis to fourth line and An­dreas Johns­son right off the chart for now. De­fence­man Igor Ozhiganov played well after Bab­cock benched him in Chicago for Mar­rtin Mar­incin.

Bab­cock also cited a player such as Zach Hy­man, who plays with Marner and Tavares, for do­ing the grunt work that’s led to their suc­cess. On Wed­nes­day morn­ing, the NHL even­tully gave Hy­man a point on Tavares’s wrap­around goal the night be­fore after he beat out an ic­ing to keep play alive.

“He was di­rectly in­volved in two goals, he made them hap­pen,” in­sisted Bab­cock. “Whether or not you get the point or not it doesn’t mat­ter. Are you do­ing what you can to help your line­mates?”

Bab­cock lauded Matthews for a strong sum­mer fit­ness sched­ule that made his skat­ing even bet­ter and tin­ker­ing to get his shot and re­lease more lethal.

“At the start of last year, he was re­ally go­ing, too.” Bab­cock re­minded. “Then he got in­jured and wasn’t able to skate.

“He’s done a good job, worked with Barb Un­der­hill (hold­ing a ses­sion with the club skat­ing coach as re­cently as last week). He’s done a lot of things, that’s what good play­ers do they spend the off-sea­son try­ing to get bet­ter. Con­fi­dence is a big part of that as well and good line­mates. You add it all to­gether and he’s do­ing a good job.”

With the plethora of of­fence, Bab­cock is a point man him­self, though of a dif­fer­ent def­i­ni­tion.

“It’s ex­cit­ing for our play­ers, they want to score. In the end you re­ally have to de­fend well and give up as few chances as you pos­si­bly can. We have to learn to do both. But the goal each night is to get points and set your­self up so you have a chance to be in the play­offs.”

KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/ THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Toronto Maple Leafs cen­tre Aus­ton Matthews cel­e­brates scor­ing against the Chicago Black­hawks with team­mate Mor­gan Rielly, dur­ing the third pe­riod of an NHL hockey game, on Sun­day, in Chicago.

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