Of­fen­sive flood­gates open in run-and-gun start to sea­son

The Daily Press (Timmins) - - Sports - JOSHUA CLIPPERTON

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

“Matty’s on an­other level,” Bab­cock said at the time of Toronto’s star cen­tre.

Now the rest of the NHL is get­ting a first-hand look.

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 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.

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.

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.

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 box scores look like they be­long in the 1980s rather than 2018.

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.

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.

Through the first week of 201819, 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.

The first week of 2016-17, mean­while, saw an av­er­age of 4.79 goals scored.

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.

The 2016-17 sea­son, mean­while, av­er­aged 5.53 goals per game.

It’s a small sam­ple size and teams will no doubt be­gin to shore up the de­fen­sive zone in the com- ing 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.

Jump­ing for joy

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.

The Hur­ri­canes re­peated the chore­og­ra­phy in the wake of Tues­day’s 5- 3 win over Van­cou­ver.

“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.”

CLAUS AN­DER­SEN/ GETTY IM­AGES

Toronto Maple Leafs cen­tre John Tavares makes a play against the Ot­tawa Se­na­tors, at Sco­tia­bank Arena on Oct. 6, in Toronto. Tavares has scored six this sea­son, which is the sec­ond most goals so far. Tavares is trail­ing only team­mate Aus­ton Matthews, who has seven goals.

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