Quick Shifts: Auston Matthews is no ‘pretend goal-scorer’

Watch as Auston Matthews scores his 35th goal to break Wendel Clark’s rookie record.

A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep.

1. Wendel Clark says the 6-foot-3, 216-pound teenager who broke his 31-year-old Toronto Maple Leafs rookie goal record has the “hands of a little guy.”

Clark, now a team ambassador and general city icon, was in the building Tuesday when Auston Matthews sniped his 35th (watch above). The Goateed One congratulated Matthews in the home dressing room after the game and was all smiles as he gushed with reporters just minutes after his name was erased from the record book.

Loved Clark’s detailed explanation of that other first-overall pick’s approach to finding twine.

“He’s got a scorer’s touch. He can either be shooting, like this goal, where he’s open in front of the net and slides it in, or he can be sliding something out of the corner,” Clark said.

Asked if Matthews reminds him of anyone, Clark said Mats Sundin, because of Matthews’ vision, passing ability, and how the kid can be dangerous coming across the blue line all by his lonesome.

“Goal-scorers score from everywhere on everything, and they’re usually not in places you think,” Clark said.

“The pretend goal-scorers are going high, top glove all the time. If you watch Auston shoot, he’s like low, between the legs, blocker side. He’s going percentages of what’s going to happen. If there’s no goal on the shot, there’s going to be something on the rebound, or maybe another shot, or a teammate’s got it.

“He really thinks the game: more about how to get the goal than to be the pretty goal.”

So keep pretending, all you pretend goal-scorers.

For fun, we adjusted Clark and Matthews’ rookie goal totals for era, falling down the hockey-reference.com rabbit hole.

2. Maybe I’m the only one, but all year I’ve been thinking about how the Maple Leafs have had success without a captain.

Asked a bunch of Leafs about this, and they all say essentially the same thing: that they have a good leadership group and a world-class coach to guide them. That’s the Cole’s notes.

But there’s one other captain-free club in this league—the Carolina Hurricanes—and we’re not sure that’s served them well. The young Leafs, however, are a playoff team.

I wanted an outsider’s perspective.

“We went to the Cup Final with no captain in New York,” explained newcomer Brian Boyle, thinking back to 2014. “We traded Cally [Ryan Callahan, to Tampa Bay]. We’ve gone through stretches in Tampa without our captain. When you lose a captain who’s been there, it’s an adjustment for sure. Different guys have to assume different roles.

The Leafs’ room is different.

“This team’s been at it all year,” Boyle said. “Granted, it’s a young team, but they’ve got guys who’ve been in the market for a while. They’ve got guys who’ve played in different markets and know how the league works. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal, to be honest with you.”

A year ago, I thought Morgan Rielly might assume the ‘C’ from Dion Phaneuf as a bridge to Matthews. Now I believe the letter will go straight to the Calder candidate. Cut out the middle man. But do they wait one more season to ease the pressure and media demands?

I asked Boyle if he spotted captain material in the room. He wouldn’t give me a name.

He did say that he puts himself in the kids’ shoes. He reminds himself where he was at 19 years old (not nearly as awesome). He’s impressed by the support staff the Leafs have in place to keep the youth in line.

“It’s a maturity thing. Some guys need to learn a couple lessons they haven’t learned yet,” Boyle said. “If I was in the room at that age, I’d have to take my lumps for sure. I’m still learning lessons at 32. Mistakes. People are human. Sometimes the young guys have misplaced frustration if they’re not doing what they think they’re capable of, or what they’re used to doing. I don’t see it with this team, but I’ve seen it with young guys before.”

The biggest eye-opener? Leafs rookies aren’t coming to Boyle—he of 100 playoff games—for advice; as the new guy, he’s going to them to learn coach Mike Babcock’s system.

“I’ve killed quite a few penalties with Zach Hyman, so I’ve asked him questions. He’s a young guy. A bright kid, smart kid. That’s a positive for this club,” Boyle said.


3. As a journalist, when you write about a subject early in his or her career, you tend to follow their progression a little closer.

So it was cool to see Vancouver prospect Brock Boeser score his first NHL goal in his first NHL game.

Love the “You Know” counter Canucks TV compiled from Boeser’s first post-game interview. Nice, light marketing touch. Watch:

4. Speaking of fun club-made productions, the Nashville Predators — bless their hearts — got quizzed on the definitions of southern slang. If you’re fixin’ to click on the video below, prepare to chuckle. She’s fine as a hair on a frog’s back.

5. Toronto’s hockey club is relevant for the first time in four years and Babcock recently took some flak from a Hall of Famer so another one on them.

Defenceman Connor Carrick told me Babcock has a consistent approach when he talks to a Leafs player one-on-one.

“Something he wants to bring up. Sting right away. It’s Topic A. There’s not B, C or D. It’s one thing,” Carrick says.

“That’s a pattern I’ve noticed: ‘Needs to go,’ [or] ‘Needs to continue,’ and that’s it. One thing as a player you always appreciate is when a coach gives you an opportunity to work hard. He’s not out there talking to you all the time or talking to you on the ice. He’s a coach that realizes play and action is what matters.”

(Lost in the criticism, Chris Chelios did say Babcock was great for young players.)

6. Top-three goal-getter Brad Marchand, who went to Babcock school at the World Cup, on the challenge of facing the Maple Leafs: “They play pretty tight all the time. Their system is, basically, they play man-on-man all over the ice. Their job is to be above guys. You don’t get many odd-man rushes on that team.”

With less than a half-dozen games to go, I keep hearing terms like “playoff-like atmosphere” bandied about on broadcasts and in post-game scrums.

Asked Marchand, whose Bruins are neck-and-neck with Toronto for the third Atlantic seed, if their 4-2 thriller last week really felt like a post-season game.

“Nah. It’s close, but nothing like the playoffs,” he said. “Just another game.”

There’s another level to go, kids. Believe it.

7. Very cool gesture.

Alex Ovechkin scores a hat trick on enemy ice Tuesday in Minnesota, and the people’s owner, Ted Leonsis, offers replacement chapeaus to Capitals fans who chucked them in celebration.

8. Shout out to Taylor Hall for being straight-up in interviews. Got a few tweets from fans labelling Hall whiny for expressing his frustration as the Oilers excel without him, but in person, Hall isn’t whiny or soft. He’s positive, confident but honest. Matter of fact.

Losing stinks.

Imagine if you invited the team’s next superstar to live with you, gave your all, and then you got traded for the greater good because no one wants to swap a top-four defenceman for Jordan Eberle or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Peter Chiarelli had a nice analogy on Hockey Central at Noon this week. The GM said the Oilers needed a left tackle (being Adam Larsson) because they kept leaving their blindside open. Not a sexy position in football but one of the most important. You can have a glut of skilled wideouts with soft hands, but if no one has time to get them the ball, it’s pointless.

It’s business, and Hall got the crap end of it. No choice but to move on. He doesn’t need your sympathy. There’s bigger candidates for that. But when he’s asked a direct question, I’m happy he doesn’t sugarcoat the truth.

9. Until Tuesday at the ACC, I’d never seen a penalty overturned by the officials after they had (a) conferred, (b) announced the call over the loudspeakers and (c) put the “offending” player in the box.

That’s what happened with Roman Polak‘s phantom high-stick on Jonathan Huberdeau. Watch this:

After the replay was shown on the Jumbotron and the crowd booed something fierce, referees Kevin Pollock and Brian Pochmara conferred again and reversed their decision. Free Polak.

“They made the right call. We were frustrated by it because he was in the box, then they took him out, but when we looked at it and I talked to [officials’ supervisor] Billy McCreary and I got a ton of respect for Kevin Pollock and [linesman] Scott Driscoll. They got it right,” said Panthers GM/coach Tom Rowe.

He’d never seen a reversal like that either. The officials told Rowe they didn’t look at the video, but we wonder if the league is cool with such a change of mind. Or with the ACC showing a replay of an iffy call before the next puck drop.

“Everybody in the whole place knows what’s right, so I don’t get what the big deal is,” Babcock said.

“Why wouldn’t you just be happy they got it right? It takes two seconds. There’s a big screen up there. You don’t have to go over and watch this little monitor; you just watch the big thing right there and get it right and everyone goes home happy. Players want it right, we want it right, fans want it right. Get it right. Let’s move on. And it’s quick.

Here’s Polak, speaking as a free man: “They’re people too, and they make mistakes. It was actually surprising that they called it back; I never saw that before in my hockey career. The referee told me he made a mistake and he wanted to fix it and make it better. So it was a classy move by him.”

10. Does playing spoiler really matter to players whose teams are out of the playoffs?

Depends whom you ask.

So we asked a few Devils, last place in the Eastern Conference, who rallied for an inspired OT victory over the New York Rangers only to lose their next four.

Travis Zajac: “It’s not a rallying point, but it’s in the back of your mind. If we can ruin another team’s season, hey, that happens. They’re fighting for a playoff spot; we’re trying to find our game.”

Kyle Palmieri: “For sure. You know what types of position teams are in going into it, looking at the standings…. We don’t have the chance to play playoff hockey at the end of the year, and that’s what these guys are fighting for. For us, it feeling like a playoff atmosphere is special.”

Taylor Hall: “If you’re spoiling one team’s chances, you better another team’s chances, so I don’t know how much I believe in that scenario…. We’re realistic about our scenario here. At this point of the season, there’s not much to do but have fun and win games.”

11. Thirty-nine-year-old Jarome Iginla’s (final?) game at the Saddledome was poetry, going out with a victory and a Gordie Howe hat trick — fighting no less than Deryk Engelland, and winning by a 71 per cent decision on hockeyfights.com.

I’m an Iginla fan, and I believe he deserved to be honoured as part of the 100 greatest NHLers ever.

I also think he should retire. It’s time.

We won’t blame the player for his desire to keep trucking; we will blame Dean Lombardi if he decides the answer is keeping a declining Iginla on the top line.

This season in L.A. has proved a couple things to me: (a) they need to get younger ASAP and (b) they should not have waited so long to trade for Ben Bishop.

12. Toronto local Azeem Haq has dropped a timely Maple Leafs rap anthem titled “Go Leafs Go.”

Nice that all proceeds from sales of the tune will be donated to the excellent MLSE Foundation.

I’m still partial to SVDVM’s “Auston Matthews,” but Haq’s Leo Komarov punchline is a beauty.

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