Auston Matthews is one of the best hockey players on the planet, and he's only 20 years old. Before suffering a shoulder separation on February 22, against the New York Islanders, the Leafs' star recorded 50 points in just 53 games. He then added 13 points in 9 games to end the season on a good note. But he hasn't been as good in the playoffs, against the Boston Bruins. That may explain why the Leafs are at risk of getting eliminated tonight.
What is going on with him? Are we talking about a lack of experience or maturity? Sportsnet journalist Andrew Berkshire recently reported that Matthews struggled to have an impact in this series, and recorded just one point in four games. If the Leafs wish to avoid losing tonight's game and being eliminated, he will have to step his game up.
Berkshire said that Matthews hasn't really been the same since his upper-body injury, and that may explain why he's having such a hard time against Boston:
Matthews’ control of shot attempts and shots on net has remained somewhat the same, and in the regular season his passing game didn’t fall off much post-injury, but his line’s share of high-danger chances has gone from one of the best marks in the entire NHL, to being outplayed in the last few weeks of the regular season, to getting dummied against the Bruins. Some of the credit for this change has to go to the Bruins, specifically the matchup against Zdeno Chara, but a shift from controlling 60 per cent of those chances when you’re on the ice to just 25 per cent can’t just be about a matchup with a player as elite as Matthews. My guess is he’s not completely healthy."
It wouldn't be a complete surprise to learn Matthews is playing despite a shoulder injury. It is fairly common for National Hockey League players to suit up even though they are not at 100%.
Now, head coach Mike Babcock has a big problem in his hands: the Bruins have a 3 - 1 lead, and his team absolutely needs a win tonight. What is he going to do with his lineup to boost his offense? Berkshire has a suggestion:
Mitch Marner is arguably the most important piece of the Plekanec line, so it’s not really an option to put him with Matthews outside of double shifting, but having a player who isn’t afraid of battles but has a bit more scoring ability than Hyman on that wing might be something to look into. Whether it’s Connor Brown, James van Riemsdyk, Kasperi Kapanen, or even Kadri taking a couple shifts on the wing, getting Matthews some scoring help could ignite him enough to carry the Leafs forward."