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TSN Toronto reporter Mark Masters checks in daily with news and notes on the Maple Leafs. The Leafs (optional) and Blue Jackets (optional) skated at Nationwide Arena on Friday. 


In each of his three previous NHL seasons, Auston Matthews has started strong. He scored 10 goals in the first six games last season. The year before that, he racked up 12 points in the first eight games. As a rookie, he posted 10 points in the first six games.

It’s not a coincidence. 

Matthews, who scored twice in Toronto's season opener this year, isn't just grinding in the gym and getting stronger in the summer, he's also trying to develop new moves to keep him ahead of the game.

On Wednesday night, a couple of his new tricks were on display. Matthews had worked on developing his one-timer into more of a weapon and immediately used it to score a power-play goal against the Senators.


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“No one can shoot the puck like that,” said captain John Tavares, who scored 47 goals last year. “It's so rare and unique and he continues just to kind of tweak and change it up just enough to keep everyone guessing and continue to improve. His second one the other night was really impressive, just taking it clean right off the pass, one timed and, you know, no one's stopping that.”

Matthews, a perfectionist in many ways, downplayed the progress he's made.

“Just one shot so obviously still some work to do on it,” he said.

That top-shelf blast was only part of the Matthews’ magic. Late in the second period, the 22-year-old circled the Ottawa net, put the puck on his blade and contemplated doing the lacrosse move before passing to a teammate. A subtle sign of things to come that didn't go unnoticed.

“We were watching the game the other night and we saw him try to pick it up and we're like, ‘Oh my gosh. Wow,’” said Blue Jackets defenceman Seth Jones. “I think he had already scored at that point and he was feeling it.”

“It's something I wouldn’t think to do,” said Jackets defenceman Zach Werenski, “but I guess when you're playing with that much confidence and you have that much skill it’s something that crosses your mind. So as a team, defensively, we have to be aware of stuff like that.”


The mere fact Matthews, who has more even-strength goals than everyone except Connor McDavid since breaking into the league, has that type of move on his radar is a warning sign to opponents.

“That just shows the confidence he has,” said Jones. “I’m sure if you ask him he wants to be the best player on the ice every night ... When it comes to Auston the degree of difficulty is usually high and he usually executes it.”

“Everything’s gotta go right to execute a play like that,” Matthews said with a grin, “but, I don't know, just trying to be creative out there.”

While the hockey world is going gaga over how Matthews can put the puck in the net, Mike Babcock is more impressed with the evolution he’s making in the defensive zone, neutral zone and without the puck.

“None of those things talk about what you guys talk about, the shot and all that, he has all those things,” the coach said, “but what you’re trying to do is you're trying to build out your program so you're an absolute complete player. I think he has the chance to be the best two-way centre in hockey and so, to me, that's our focus. In the end, you win championships like that and that's what he wants to do.”

Asked where the Leafs can improve this season, Matthews struck a similar tone. 

“Defensively,” he said. “We put up a number of things we need to improve on and you look at the guys, the other teams that were in the final four, and those were the teams that did that stuff that we needed to improve on, they did it the best. They were at the top of the list. So you put that in perspective and try and work on that systematically and personally as well.”



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With so much excitement surrounding Matthews, your humble correspondent had to at least try and get the perspective of Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella, who usually doesn't like to talk about opposing players that much. 

“I'm concerned about our guys,” he said echoing a familiar refrain.

Okay, well, how do the Jackets stop Matthews tonight?

“Well, I mean, he's a really good player,” Tortorella said. “I'm not going to sit here and talk about him, but he’s a helluva player ... I think when you're talking about that talent level, you don't shut him down, you just try and contain him ... he's a helluva player, but I'm not going to sit here and talk about the Maple Leafs on opening night.”


Mitch Marner used the platform provided by Uninterrupted, an athlete empowerment brand co-founded by LeBron James, to post a video message to Leafs fans thanking them for their support in the wake of his at-times difficult contact negotiations.

“You've always been the centre of the hockey world and this summer was crazy for all of us," he said in the video posted Thursday. “You hear from guys, ‘You know you'll be living under the microscope in Toronto,’ and, you know what, I wouldn't have it any other way. Your hopes are big, your dreams are big, you're the most diverse fans in the world and your diversity is what makes you the best fans in the world.”

The video runs one minute and 20 seconds and was posted on Twitter with the hashtag #SincerelyYours. 

​“That brand, what it's doing for athletes, it's blowing up, it's unbelievable,” Marner said this morning. “It's what every athlete, I think, always wanted to do, but never really could get it down. I mean, the most influential athlete in the world I would say right now is the one leading it all and when the opportunity came I jumped at it as quick as I could. It's a brand that means a lot to athletes around the world, but there's not too many hockey players in it now and a thing that’s great is they want to get all sports involved and I jumped at the opportunity when it came. It was another thing to give back to the city.”


Projected Leafs lineup for tonight's game: 

Johnsson - Matthews - Nylander

Kapanen - Tavares - Marner

Mikheyev - Kerfoot - Moore

Petan - Gauthier / Spezza  


Muzzin - Barrie 

Rielly - Ceci 

Sandin - Holl 

Andersen starts