Auston Matthews, renowned for his offensive prowess and often labeled as one of the NHL’s premier two-way centers, is set to add another dimension to his game this season by joining the penalty kill unit. With no short-handed goals or points in his NHL career, it’s frankly quite remarkable that Matthews had never been deployed on the penalty kill, but he’s eager to embrace this new role, citing his confidence in his stickwork and ability to disrupt plays. “There’s definitely a lot of opportunity and something I definitely want to embrace,” he told reporters are taking some reps to open camp.
Matthews’ inclusion on the penalty kill could bring a fresh dynamic to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ special teams, potentially leading to increased shorthanded goals during the upcoming season. He noted when asked about how it went trying it out, “Not bad,” he said. He added that the more reps he gets and the better understanding he has, the more he’ll feel effective in that role. And, if it works out, it could be a wicked weapon for the Leafs, who might be taking a page out of the Edmonton Oilers book where that franchise placed Connor McDavid on the kill with resounding success.
In previous seasons, Matthews’ penalty kill time has been limited, with durations ranging from just over three minutes to nearly nine minutes in the 2020-21 season. These statistics reflect his tendency to be on the ice for the final seconds of the penalty, which accumulates over the course of a season. It’s a trick NHL coaches do to get offensive stars out there during the transition with a power play unit, not necessarily known for strong defense, on the ice. It’s also a good way to protect your stars.
As such, it’s not surprising that this season’s experiment comes with a caveat: the team will want to ensure he doesn’t face an excessive number of shots, given his pivotal role as an offensive catalyst.
Keefe emphasized that he wouldn’t want to compromise Matthews’ even-strength shifts, acknowledging him as the most potent 5v5 scorer in the league. Additionally, the decision to deploy Matthews on the penalty kill would be situational, dependent on the game context.
Matthews Could Use This As an Opportunity to Become a Top Two-Way Star
Being considered a top 5-10 player in the league often implies an ability to contribute effectively in all situations, and Matthews aims to make his substantial $13 million contract worthwhile by doing just that. It’s one thing to get the big bucks for your offensive ability. It’s another to start helping your team when down in situations.
As the season unfolds, fans and analysts will eagerly watch how Matthews adapts to this new challenge and how his addition to the penalty kill unit impacts the Maple Leafs’ performance in shorthanded situations.
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