At least for the fans it will be a duel when Auston Matthews and Connor Bedard face off on Monday evening.
The first overall picks and catching the hockey world’s attention in Week 1 of NHL play should liven up a sleepy October schedule and perhaps draw a few looks from the NFL’s Monday Night Football between the Cowboys and Chargers or the baseball playoffs .
Matthews, who has scored two straight hat tricks, only needs to score once to become the first Maple Leaf to score seven goals in three games since Rick Vaive during a late spurt in the 1986-87 season.
Bedard of the Chicago Blackhawks could become the eighth player in NHL history to record a point in each of his first four or more career games at age 18 or younger. He’s on a five-game welcome trip.
Leafs right winger Mitch Marner has been a part of many of Matthews’ scoring highlights since he went first in the 2016 draft, and also faced Bedard at the last NHL awards ceremony that hosted the projected 2023 No. 1 overall pick .
“What stands out is just (Bedard’s) ability and what he does with the puck when he has the time and space,” Marner said. “He’s a great guy, a great family too. It was really great to enjoy the breeze with him for a few minutes.
“(The media) isn’t easy to please, there’s a lot of expectations placed on him, but he’s done a great job with (the attention). “He hasn’t lost himself.”
Still, Matthews has a 300-goal lead over the Western junior star. And John Tavares, himself a former number 1 in 2009, has 1,000 points.
Neither player was made available by their teams Monday morning — the Hawks didn’t even host a morning skate — but Marner said any heater Matthews gets on is equally exciting for him.
“It was remarkable to see,” Marner said of Matthews, who began the year as only a handful of NHL players have ever done since 1917. “His goalscoring abilities are obviously first class. People don’t ask how they go in, but how many, and it was great to see him still surprising people with his shot, that play from the side of the net.
“For me it’s about getting him the puck with space and time. If he can get it somewhere near the slot or turn it down somehow, he has a great chance of putting it in the net. For me it’s about finding him in those areas but at the same time not trying to force him there too often.”
The Leafs have held almost their entire lineup together since their somewhat sloppy home wins against Montreal and Minnesota, in which they conceded a total of nine goals. There will be a change in net, however, as junior Joseph Woll starts for the first time since the team’s second-round playoff overtime loss to Florida last spring.
Coach Sheldon Keefe has tempered his criticism of the team’s overall defensive play since it is so early in the game plan.
“In both games I didn’t feel good because we gave up a lot (of goals), gave up more chances than we would have liked,” Keefe said. “But both times I go back in and watch it (on video) and there’s a lot more good that I see.
“There were a lot of breakdowns in our defensive zone. But like everyone else, we defend to the best of our ability when we’re fresh, but we want to put pressure on the puck and when you’re tired that breaks.
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“That’s it, and we have people who are still up to speed (new to the team or new strikers) and a small glitch often results in someone else covering and ultimately leaves you exposed.”
New Hawks coach Luke Richardson, himself a former Leafs first-rounder as a Peterborough Petes defenseman, has a 1-2 record so far, but Chicago has held opponents to eight goals. Bedard and Corey Perry each had three points to lead the team.