MAPLE LEAFS NOTES: Good and bad, Auston Matthews saw it all in October

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What an oscillating October it was for Auston Matthews.

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From two hat tricks off the hop that had some etching his name on the Rocket Richard Trophy, he had two shots on goal in a pointless Halloween game that made him minus-4 in the course of his past seven starts.

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The Leafs heard some booing Tuesday as a 4-1 loss to Los Angeles unfolded and judging by social media, the three-goal games are ancient history.

Matthews and his principal wingman, Mitch Marner, have found game conditions to be challenging 5-on-5 since Matthews broke from the gate so fast. They haven’t been on the same page some nights, also a function of rotating new left-wingers and what must be considered a slow start for Marner, despite a point in all but two games.

“There’s a lot of just one-and-done,” Matthews said Wednesday of breakdowns after their even–strength rushes are denied. “As a line and as a team (the Leafs must) generate more offensively and have more time in the zone. It’s on us to work out and communicate with each other and all five on the ice.”

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Coach Sheldon Keefe believes “more speed, more execution, playmaking and overall pace” is required to get the two back on track and will lift others.

“With that comes more time in the offensive zone. You put the opposition on their heels more and it tends to be easier to get the puck back.

“There’s lots of trust (in Matthews and Marner). These are elite players in the league and we’re talking about them because you’re expecting such an exceptional standard. Even not at their best they are still very good players and big parts of every win that we’ve had.

“It’s early for those guys, they’ve played a lot of hockey for us, both this season (in the top five of league ice time per game) and in seasons past. They will continue to get better as it moves along. We’ll work with them but there are other things on the list we are prioritizing.”

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SHARED SORROW

Keefe has been in contact with his brother Adam, coach of the EIHL Belfast Giants, in the wake of the Adam Johnson tragedy on the weekend in which the Nottingham Panthers forward died when an opponent’s skate blade slashed his throat. Belfast plays Nottingham later this month.

“A very difficult and terrible situation for the entire hockey world,” the Toronto coach said. “It’s been a tough time and their league went on hold for a little while to let everyone process what’s happened.”

GIO DRIVE THROUGH?

Mark Giordano was amused to get a text from a friend last week who’d alerted him to his goal in Nashville making the 40-year-old the third eldest Leaf defenceman to score in the past six decades, behind the late Allan Stanley and coffee chain legend Tim Horton.

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“That’s pretty cool,” Giordano said. “You could look at it two ways, but being the oldest guy in the league (this season), I look at it in the positive for sure.”

Any plans to launch a fast-food chain himself in Toronto when he retires?

“Gio Donuts? Maybe some canollis,” he said with a laugh.

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LOOSE LEAFS

Defenceman Jake McCabe (lower body muscle pull) hopes to resume practicing the next couple of days. “I’m told once he’s back on skates, they don’t expect it to be a long time to get back up to speed,” Keefe said … Connor Timmins (knee) has been skating a couple of days by himself but the defenceman and pre-season scoring notable is still weeks away from a return … The Leafs ‘Hockey Fights Cancer’ night will be this Saturday’s home game against Buffalo … Matthews has signed a new promotional deal with Prime sports drink, joining an athletic stable that includes Manchester City/Norway soccer star Erling Haaland, Aston Villa and Switzerland midfielder Alisha Lehmann and UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski … There was a definite Leaf flavour to the 2024 American Hockey League Hall of Fame induction announcement this week. It included Gerry Ehman, late member of Toronto’s 1964 Stanley Cup winners who had six seasons of 30 goals in Rochester, ex-Toronto scout Dennis Bonvie for his 15 seasons in the ‘A’, and Roy Sommer, who had more wins than any coach in the league  and was a 1977 draft pick of the Leafs  from Calgary. Also named, was Gordie Clark, who went from playing to several NHL management roles.

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