In the two months since Jake Muzzin was traded to the Maple Leafs from the Los Angeles Kings, he’s seen a lot of Auston Matthews’ game up close. However, nothing to date has compared to what the veteran defenceman witnessed from Matthews in Toronto’s 4-2 win over Buffalo on Wednesday, a two-point outing so strong on Matthews’ part that Muzzin had a hard time articulating his awe.
“I’m still learning from only being here a little bit, I don’t know what it was; the puck was just not leaving his stick,” Muzzin said after the Leafs’ optional morning skate on Saturday, prior to facing the New York Rangers that night. “His hands were feeling it that night, and then when the puck is glued to his stick like that, it’s tough to get it off him and he creates a lot of chances. That was pretty impressive.”
Impressive has increasingly become Matthews’ default setting, and Toronto is depending on that to continue. It was only a week ago the Leafs were in shambles, having allowed 23 goals in four games with a 1-3-0 record, all while looking a long way from any kind of playoff contender.
To correct themselves out of that free fall, the Leafs have made a collective pact to take more pride in their defensive game, evidenced by their sound play (but lack of goal support) in a 3-0 loss to Nashville on Tuesday. Galvanized by their improvements, Matthews responded with his most dominant performance in weeks.