3 things we learned in the NHL: Leafs can survive without Matthews

NHL Insider Chris Johnston breaks down the Auston Matthews-less Leafs and how Nazem Kadri and Patrick Marleau upped their game to try to compensate in the absence of their star forward.

The Toronto Maple Leafs got some strong play from their veterans while the New York Rangers saw their youth movement continue to thrive. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Lightning just keep getting offence from all corners of their locker room.

With only three games on the slate Wednesday night, here are a few things we learned in the NHL on Wednesday.

Toronto has enough veteran skill to weather Matthews’ absence
Maple Leafs fans plunged into a panic when news broke that sophomore sensation Auston Matthews would miss the first game of his NHL career. Toronto’s attack certainly seemed less dynamic without No. 34 putting on his usual 200-foot show, but the blue and white proved to have enough veteran firepower to survive regardless, outlasting the Minnesota Wild with a 4-2 win.

Patrick Marleau led that charge, tallying in the second period to earn his sixth goal of the season and the 514th of his career, allowing the 38-year-old to take sole possession of 39th place on the all-time goals list.

The former San Jose Shark also led all Leafs skaters with four shots on the night, as seasoned centreman Dominic Moore ranked second with three chances on net.

Nazem Kadri got on the board as well, tallying his third goal in two games, while fellow veteran Matt Martin earned his second of the year.

The Rangers’ offensive youth movement is alive and well
New York entered Wednesday night with the fourth-most goals in the league, sitting with 52 through 16 contests. With 24-year-old Mika Zibanejad‘s 17 points leading the team’s offensive efforts so far, the Rangers saw a couple other young guns make their mark on Wednesday against the Boston Bruins.

Pavel Buchnevich, the youngest Ranger on the roster at 22 years of age, kicked things off with a beautiful first-period tally:

Jimmy Vesey upped the ante just a few minutes later, potting two goals in 29 seconds to extend his club’s lead.

The Rangers are mired in a transitional phase but are still managing to make waves offensively without the well-travelled names that recently led their forward corps – just two seasons ago, now-departed skaters Derick Brassard, Derek Stepan and Keith Yandle all ranked among the team’s top four scorers.

New York might not boast many bonafide superstars anymore aside from winger Rick Nash, who netted a late goal to pad the Rangers’ lead, but it appears their young guns are firing with enough vigour to keep the club rolling for now.

Tampa Bay just can’t stop finding breakout scorers
The Tampa Bay Lightning have dominated the opposition from opening night, with star duo Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov amassing an absurd 48 points through the first 15 games of the year.

But the club proved they’re more than just their star power on Wednesday, as 23-year-old defender Jake Dotchin—one of the youngest skaters on the roster—notched the first goal of his NHL career:

It was Tampa Bay’s low-key electric second line that set up Dotchin’s memorable goal, as Brayden Point and Yanni Gourde registered helpers on the first-period tally. That gives Point 17 points on the season, quietly ranking the Calgary, Alta. native among the top 20 scorers in the league.

The Bolts’ Eastern Conference rival in Pittsburgh put on an organizational clinic over the past two years, using their exceptional depth to withstand a rash of injuries and consistently outskate the opposition en route to back-to-back Stanley Cups. They laid out the blueprint for the rest of the league’s contenders—a plan grounded in rolling four lines and stocking a seemingly endless cupboard of puck-moving defenders.

It’s early, but with the Lightning’s big guns looking unstoppable and the club seeing breakout performances from different skaters on a nightly basis, Tampa Bay already looks like they have all they need to contend for a title in 2018.

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