A hat trick of all hat tricks?
Auston Matthews would make NHL history if he scored three points (or more) for the third straight game against the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday at Scotiabank Arena.
Even in the free-scoring era that followed the league’s founding – when goaltenders were poorly equipped and discouraged from stopping pucks – no team managed three consecutive hat tricks at any point during the season.
Even though goals were scored decades later in the expansion years of the 1970s and 1980s, this is partly because goalkeepers did not train physically and mentally as they do today and were smaller overall – a long-held belief that back-tricks never happened.
But one night after another thunderous ovation on home ice, when his sixth goal in two nights helped put away the Minnesota Wild, the Maple Leafs superstar didn’t speak through his hat at the certainty of another goal would be safe.
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“Not really, you just have to take it one game at a time,” he said on Sunday morning after a short team training session to stay fit against Chicago.
“We are concentrating on tomorrow’s game. We have to clean up some things that maybe weren’t our best (nine goals conceded), make those adjustments and then go out and play.”
Matthews was equally happy to talk about his defensive play and how he wanted to apologize for letting Ryan Hartman sneak behind him for a tip-in to score the lead. Matthews and his linemates Mitch Marner and Tyler Bertuzzi were not in action for another goal.
“You never want to be out there for those (missed coverage calls),” Matthews said. “I felt a little responsible on that play because I was trying to get the puck forward and then miss. You always want to try to get that back.”
We’d consider three goals on five shots as appropriate retaliation, while he’s the NHL’s all-time leader in shooting percentage with a total of six of 13 goals on 10 shots or more at 46.3%.
He has nine career tricks and is the fifth NHL player to score three or more goals in two games to start a season.
Leafs teammates weren’t shy about discussing Matthews’ accomplishments.
“Whoever is selling hats, their inventory is definitely going up,” winger Ryan Reaves said. “I’m sure people aren’t happy about losing them (in hindsight), but it’s nice to see them flying on the ice two games in a row.
“When you have a heater like that, it’s hard not to talk about it. He’s doing something special here.”
Captain John Tavares is equally impressed with Matthew’s defensive play. He was credited with four of Toronto’s 10 takeaways against Minnesota, one of the league’s stingiest teams.
“It’s not just about scoring goals, his ability to finish games, but also how he wins battles,” Tavares said. “About his puck protection and the way he can maneuver his body and control the puck, I’m not sure people talk about it a lot.” But we recognize it here.
“It’s something that’s really hard to do that he makes seem easy. He sees and understands the game so well and is able to move in space and time and read the situation.
“All of those things are in sync and he’s off to a great start.”
Coach Sheldon Keefe’s new assistant is Guy Boucher, who was the head coach in Ottawa when Matthews broke into the NHL in 2016 with a four-goal game on the road. Boucher is now running Toronto’s power play with Matthews as a prominent member, and Keefe’s team has brought up this play with Boucher as a dig.
“Guy actually reminded us that his team won that game (5-4),” Keefe said.
TO’s hockey history is full to the brim
There’s a bit of chapeau kismet on Matthew’s part should he go for the goal against Chicago on Monday.
In Toronto, the term hat trick was first used to describe a hockey performance of three or more goals in a game – with the Blackhawks in town.
Hawks winger Alex Kaleta walked into Sammy Taft’s hat shop on Spadina Ave. in January 1946. looking for a new hat.
He admired a fedora on display and complained to Taft that he lacked the money to buy it. Taft offered it for free if he scored three goals, given the promotional value, but Kaleta went one better with four goals in a 6-5 loss.
After the game, it was called a hat trick on the radio and Taft’s store was well received by many prominent customers, including Leafs owner Harold Ballard. According to Chicago writer Bob Verdi, Kaleta kept the famous hat for about ten years and left it to his younger brother Arthur, who lost it in a move.