2) Can the big names step up and deliver?
Whether they like it or not, Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander have the bulk of the pressure on them in this play-in series. This is what happens when four players account for effectively half of a team’s salary cap.
The talent of the foursome is undeniable, giving the Leafs one of the most potent attacks in the NHL. No one could have predicted they would be held scoreless in Game 1.
Of course a big part of this was the game plan deployed by the Blue Jackets. (More on this shorty.) However, you can still argue there was no excuse to not even score one goal in a game of such importance.
Compared to Tavares, Marner and Nylander, Matthews actually had quite a decent game; in fact he was probably the best forward on either team on the night. He doubled up the trio’s shots on goal 6-3 — Marner had none — and this doesn’t include his effort which hit the crossbar.
Certainly, head coach Sheldon Keefe saw that Matthews at least had something about him and gave him every opportunity to produce. The superstar centre played a team-high 24:38, which was also more minutes than he ever played under Mike Babcock in a playoff game.
In truth, Keefe will arguably have to continue getting Matthews to log big minutes. As much as he stood tall against Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, the reality is he created his best chances when they weren’t on the ice.
You get the feeling that Matthews will be okay, even though he will still have to step up a level. However, it will likely all be for nothing if Tavares, Marner and Nylander don’t show significant improvement in Game 2 and for the remainder of the series in general.
They all believe they were worthy of their pay rises. Now it’s to time to go out on the ice and prove it.