Auston Matthews not living up to Mike Babcock's two-way hype

We’ll share points after every game throughout the Toronto Maple Leafs season.

It was about as ugly as it has been for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who simply could not overcome their mistakes Monday night versus the Columbus Blue Jackets. Toronto erased an early 2-0 deficit to take a lead, but allowed an equalizer before Gustav Nyquist buried the overtime winner on a penalty shot to claim it for Columbus, 4-3.

The Maple Leafs will be in Boston with Michael Hutchinson in net Tuesday night.

Scroll to continue with content
Ad

Until then, two points:

First Point: Two-way force?

Prior to their first meeting this season with the Blue Jackets, when we were prematurely discussing whether 50 goals and the Rocket Richard Trophy was a realistic expectation for Auston Matthews, Mike Babcock had forecasted something different for the star centre.

Eyebrows were collectively lifted when Babcock said, and without much prompting, that Matthews has the potential to become “the best two-way centre in hockey.”

While one of those designations remains very much alive for Matthews, who has eight goals in 10 games and has contributed at over a point-per-game pace, the other seems a tad overly hopeful, now.

Because of late, Matthews has looked the part of a goal poacher — not the dominant two-way force that was supposed to earn his possessions, his opportunities, and his goals through refined defensive play and a commitment to his responsibilities in the defensive end.

Tonight he wasn’t able to score his way out of trouble like he had last time out versus the Boston Bruins.

The struggles began early, as Matthews near-immediately surrendered his opportunity to stick on a line with Mitch Marner. Cheating for offense with a stick check on Pierre-Luc Dubois deep in the defensive zone after Marner had already committed an egregious turnover himself, Matthews lost position on the Blue Jackets centre and watched as he swooped into the blue paint from beyond the goal line to jam a puck through Frederik Andersen’s pads.

As dominant goal scorers do, Matthews answered Dubois for his mistake with a goal of his own, tying the game before the first period was up. Though it should be noted that his goal, a tap-in on a fantastic offensive-zone read from Andreas Johnsson, came after spending the first 40 seconds of his shift chasing the puck in his own end.

The expectation was after a herky-jerky opening period that both teams would cut down on their mistakes and show renewed focus on the defensive end. This was not the case for Matthews, with two defensive lapses late in the second period in particular standing out.

After firing a pass into the skates of William Nylander prolonged a defensive-zone shift, the Leafs looked poised to clear the zone, only to have it thrown back deep. Far too eager to follow his linemates and defenseman Morgan Rielly on the jailbreak, Matthews was fortunate not to have left Cody Ceci alone to defend with three Blue Jackets forwards in possession.

Then seconds into his next shift, Matthews tracked back into the Leafs zone and had the chance to clean up defensively after a transition opportunity for Columbus. Instead he over-skated a puck that fell to Alexander Wennberg, who helps it over to Dubois, only to be absolutely robbed on a one-time shot by Andersen.

With just one of his several defensive lapses hurting the Maple Leafs on the scoresheet, Matthews was once again in the position to overcome those issues with his own attacking impact. It was Matthews’ puck retrieval and shot on goal, followed up by another smart pass from Johnsson, that provided the Leafs with their first lead in the game.

While Matthews did make up for the mistakes that cost the Maple Leafs directly, unfortunately there was more where that came from. The game was rife with mental lapses from the home side, which ultimately led to another home loss.

They were lucky to have a bonus point.

Exactly what Babcock’s intentions were when he earmarked Matthews as potentially the most-dominant two-way force in the game, we don’t know. But the Maple Leafs star didn’t move closer to that tonight, even if the two points he secured will help compete for the end-of-season trophies the rest of us had him targeted for.

Second Point: Listen when Muzzin speaks

As efficient as Jake Muzzin can be on the ice, he might be more effective with his words.

Seldom is the Leafs defenseman brought out to speak to the media, be it after a win or a loss, but it seems as though he was eager to pass a message along after the loss to Columbus.

Hell, maybe he volunteered.

Muzzin’s words were maybe the most pointed we have heard from a Maple Leafs player post-game this season.

He didn’t let his teammates off the hook for failing to deliver a full effort.

“It’s a recipe for giving goals up when you take penalties, turn over pucks, and play in your zone,” Muzzin said. “You can’t win like that.”

When asked if the challenge of sending out backup netminder Michael Hutchinson in Boston will sharpen their focus, Muzzin didn’t bite:

“We’re going to play better defensively. We have to no matter what. No matter who’s in net. No matter what team we’re playing.”

More Maple Leafs coverage on Yahoo Sports

What to Read Next