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Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Auston Matthews is like nothing we’ve ever seen

For a lot of Leafs supporters, at this point I think the most common first reaction to an Auston Matthews goal isn’t a yell, or jump-up, or fist pump. It’s laughter in disbelief. At least that’s where I find myself these days.

Last night in the season opener Matthews was up to old tricks: Scoring highlight reel goals. But he was showing off something new. As we mentioned last week, Matthews, perhaps the best pure shooter in the game already, spent a lot of time retooling and improving his shot this summer. That was on display against the Canadiens when he pulled off something jaw-dropping on each of his two goals on route to a Toronto win.

First up was the patented half-curl and drag 34 used to burn Carey Price on the powerplay early in the game. This has become sort of his thing, but it was fun to be reminded how his footwork can disguise the shot so that no one besides Matthews has a clue where it’s going. It’s chalked up to him keeping himself off-center, which the goalies have a brutal time with. And like we’ve seen time and time again, defenders can play him perfectly but it’s still no use.

Petry and Price couldn’t really play this any differently. The problem is the shot is so fast and so deceptive it’s leaving the back of the net before anyone even knows what happened. There’s no breakdown, no mistake really. I don’t know that we’ve seen a guy that can create this kind of offense out of nothing the way Matthews can. Again, this is Carey Price in net, who to this point had been playing a super strong game. But no one is stopping that, because no one can read it.

For his next act, Matthews puts the game away in overtime. At first, in real time, I thought this was just a simple cross-ice feed that he got a stick on to sort of deflect or chip it up high and beat Price. Standard stuff.

But there’s nothing standard about this.

There’s definitely a quick corral there, he’s in control the whole time. It isn’t just a chip or “getting a stick on it and hoping for the best” kind of thing, but it all happens so fast it almost looks like it. As Brayden Engel noted further down the thread, Matthews’ ability to cradle that shot and get it away as fast as a one-timer makes him more dangerous than a righty who can try to hammer it. The point where Matthews is letting the puck go is about 4-5 feet further from where a right-handed forward would hit it, meaning his angle for that top left corner is a lot more straight up, and Price has to move a lot further to try to close it off. He can’t, he doesn’t, and the Leafs win.

I don’t know if Matthews is the best player in the world right now. Perhaps it’s McDavid and I’m foolish to even question it. But I will say that in the same way McDavid made us re-think how a hockey player can skate, Matthews is now making us re-think how a player can shoot.

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