Toronto Maple Leafs: Auston Matthews Criticism Wrong and Unfounded

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 07: Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs reacts to the crowd after the Leafs scored against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on October 7, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 07: Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs reacts to the crowd after the Leafs scored against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on October 7, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs play in the toughest media market in the NHL.

A great example of how hard it is to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs could be seen in yesterday’s Toronto Sun. 

Look, I understand that this season hasn’t gone according to anyone’s expectations, but can we all just get a grip?

The Leafs are 4-3 under Sheldon Keefe, and that includes three losses against three goalies who performed miraculously.  It also includes a seven game stretch where the Leafs are shooting under 7% at 5v5 and have only three power-play goals.  (All stats

These are not excuses for losing. The Leafs lost and they don’t need me to make excuses for them.  What these are, are clear and obvious reasons why the team might do better in it’s next seven games.

Toronto Maple Leafs and Auston Matthews

During this time, the Leafs went 4-2 without their 94 point superstar, and Auston Matthews only scored two goals and had two assists while shooting at half his career shooting percentage and having a very low on-ice shooting percentage.

It is a 100% guarantee that over any random seven game stretch, the Leafs are usually going to usually shoot over 7% and get more than 3 power play goals.  Auston Matthews will almost always score more than four points.

So excuse me if this sky-is-falling crap gets under my skin a bit.

I get it from the fans, but one of the biggest outlets in the city writing a hit piece on the team’s best player?  They should know better.

From the Steve Simmons article linked above:

"For the first time, really, in Auston Matthews’ time in Toronto, there is some wondering about who is he is and what he can become."

Whoever is wondering this should move.  Prior to hiring Keefe, Matthews was on a 45 goal 100 point pace and was the NHL’s best possession player who also scores.

He did that without the benefit of Marner/Tavares playing on another line helping him get easier minutes, and with the coach completely neutering the team’s 60+ point puck moving defensemen.

Oh, and a massively underperforming powerplay.

That’s right folks, because the team is losing, I’m forced to defend a player with some of the NHL’s best stats, who also happens to be the NHL’s best even-strength goal scorer since he entered the league.

But some people are questioning him?

With respect, those people should be laughed at.

Since Keefe was hired, Auston Matthews has flat-out dominated, but since we’re apparently not sophisticated enough to recognize good play unless the puck goes into the net, I guess we should just trade him.

Sine Keefe was hired, with Matthews on the ice, Toronto is getting 54% of the shot-attempts, 60% of the shots, 56% of the expected goals,56% of the scoring chances, 58% of the dangerous scoring chances.

If you don’t know, those are AWESOME numbers which, over time, will lead to absolutely huge results.

Matthews on-ice shooting percentage (which means everyone on the ice with him) is under 5% since Keefe took over.  His career average is about 9-10% for his career.

That is not the kind of thing you can help.  Sometimes, goalies make more saves then they normally do.

Matthews is dominating games, but the team is scoring at about half the rate he usually does, making it seem like he’s not playing well and paving the way for ridiculous criticism.

Matthews remains on pace or 41 goals and 82 points.  Yeah, that isn’t exactly the highs we are hoping for with him, but it’s impressive if you consider the Leafs injuries, schedule, Babcock, recent run of bad luck and the anemic power play.

Matthews’ stat line to date is basically “here’s the bare minimum I can produce, and I can do it even when literally everything goes wrong.”

For a while there David Pasternak was flirting with a 30% shooting percentage.  Do you have any idea what kind of numbers Matthews will put up when he heats up and goes on a similar bender?

This criticism is all the more unwarranted because we have the actual proof of how he is playing.  You don’t get 60% of the shots unless you’re playing out-of-your-mind hockey.

And as for the Nathan MacKinnon comparisons, at the same age, Matthews blows him out of the water.   This year, while Matthews is one of the best puck possession players in the NHL (11th, all positions, 400 minutes min) MacKinnon has just a 49% rating.  MacKinnon has a slightly higher points/60 than Matthews, but it’s bouyed by a massive on-ice shooting percentage that Matthews isn’t getting.

A deep dig into the numbers shows it won’t be long until Matthews is outperforming MacKinnon, as he’s clearly the better players.  But hey, if you’re insistent on judging players exclusively by total points, there’s nothing I can say to help you.

Next. Potential 2020 Free Agents. dark

And I guess since Matthews doesn’t fight and cross check guys in the face, he’ll never truly be trying hard enough for some.