Auston Matthews needs more power play time. In a recent Sportsnet article, it was argued that Toronto Maple Leafs’ center Matthews was getting enough power play time. The argument, in a nutshell, was that he doesn’t score enough on the power play relative to other players. The other players get power play points so why take time away from them? They need Matthews at five on five hockey, other players need power play time, and they don’t want to tire Matthews out for the playoffs. But anyone who follows the Leafs closely would agree that argument is a load of hogwash.
Auston Matthews Needs More Power Play Time
Most Maple Leaf fans are not satisfied with how the team has been performing the past six weeks or so. They are still on a steady path to the playoffs due to a weak Atlantic division and a pile of early season wins. But if the team wants to be a part of a lengthy playoff run, they need to improve in quite a few areas right now. Improving the power play is a big step in the right direction.
Eleventh At Everything
The Leafs are eleventh in power-play percentage. That’s pretty good, but they are fourth in goals scored. Two of the top two offenses in the league are the Winnipeg Jets and the Tampa Bay Lighting. They sit at third and first respectively in goals for. They also happen to be second and third respectively in power-play percentage. Another place those two teams are in the top three oi is the NHL standings. The Leafs are capable of being a top five power play team. If they attained that, it would have a dramatic effect on their position in the standings. Their current position, coincidently enough, is eleventh.
If we concede the team could stand to improve their power play. The question is how, and the answer is who. Matthews needs more power play time.
To The Point
It’s an anomaly that he only has six power play points this season. His average time may be close to James van Riemsdyk, who has 12 points, but Matthews also missed 10 games and played who knows how many games hurt. In a full healthy season, which equal time on the man advantage, Matthews would easily top the Leafs in power-play points. What he can do with the puck five on five is nothing short of amazing. Giving him extra room is going to pay off in the long run.
There are many Leafs doing well on the power play, but there’s one that stands out as not doing so well and that’s Tyler Bozak. He’s not terrible, but if the Leafs doubled down on Matthews and gave him some time on the first unit, the already decent success of JVR could dramatically improve. Bozak could still get his minutes, Matthews can’t play every second, but surely they could find opportunities to fit Matthews in on that second unit to give him that extra time.
Five On Five
There is no doubt Matthews is a stellar five on five player, which means he should be even better five on four. His main skills are puck handling and scoring goals. The two most important skills required to score with the man advantage.
His defensive ability has also been key for the Leafs and here they may lose a little bit. But they can learn better team defense, Bozak isn’t going to learn to start scoring at a 40 goal a year pace. Let Matthews have his offensive time and let the rest of the team learn to play defense and hold leads.
Holding A Lead
It’s not a trend yet, unlike last year, but the Leafs have a problem of late holding onto leads. The best way to break any habit is to practice. Not the morning skate kind of practice. Real life practice. That means having leads in live games and holding them. The best way to get leads is to score goals. If the team improved their power play they would have and hold more leads, Ultimately winning more games.
Come playoffs, special teams can decide a series. The games tighten up and special teams goals are crucial. The better the Leafs can get now, they better they will be in the playoffs. It’s not likely they’re going to be able to flip some switch and change overnight between game 82 and Game One.
After dropping four of six in their most recent homestand, and another blown lead on Thursday night, the Leafs could stand to win more games. The concept of saving it for the playoffs when you’re not winning more than you lose in the present is not a good argument.
Despite that, if they’re really worried about tiring out a 20-year-old professional athlete one of two things is happening. Either it’s not actually true that anyone is worried about that, or the people making those decisions don’t remember what it’s like to be 20. Lou Lamoriello is getting close to retirement age at a young 75. However, I think the men in charge of the Leafs know better.
Ultimately, the team needs to start scoring more goals and winning more games. Twelve goals and two wins on a six-game homestand is not a good showing. One way to kick-start this team into a winning attitude is to get that power play moving up the rankings. Undoubtedly, they need to use their best player to do that. The more they score and have the lead, the more they’ll win. Also the greater their confidence will grow. With the power-play featuring Matthews, the team will score more often. Once that begins it will snowball and the rest of the Leafs will change the course of their season.
Embed from Getty Images