Auston Matthews finished his rookie season with 40 goals for the Toronto Maple Leafs. And although we know he's an elite talent, he has scored several goals that look like nothing special at best. It looks like he just skates and shoots and the puck goes in, like the defenders and goalies don't even try.
His 2-1 goal against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday was a perfect example.
Matthews receives a pass in the defensive zone from goaltender Frederik Andersen. He picks it up, tries to chip it past a forechecker, loses it, is lucky to get it back and just fires a shot at the net. Carey Price stumbles, the puck goes in. Pure luck, right? Wrong (obviously).
Here's how he did it.
When Matthews enters the offensive zone, he has one defenceman on the inside in front of him and one backchecker to the inside right behind him. With that, he has two options: One, he can use his momentum to go straight down the outside, then drive hard to the net or go around it. And two, he can try to cut through the two defenders to get inside the dots and drive through the middle.
Unfortunately, NHL defencemen know his options as well, so there's really just one way for Matthews to get to the net: sell one thing and do the other. At the very least, this will force the defender to react and make a decision.
All it takes for Matthews to force Brandon Davidson to make a move is a subtle turn of his foot.
Take a look at his right foot in the frame below.
Matthews lifts his foot off the ice in stride and turns it – for a split second – as if he wanted to cut hard into the middle. In addition, he twists his upper body to the inside and positions his hands well to protect the puck from the backchecking forward. Everything in the frame above suggests Matthews is about to move to the middle.
Just before he puts his right foot back on the ice, however, he turns it back into a forward position to continue skating down the outside lane. But, he is able to sell Davidson on the fake, who slows down considerably and tries to clog the middle lane with his stick. Matthews then pulls the puck back to the outside, giving the defender no chance to ever reach the puck.
Now, the fake was not enough to create extra room to get a straight shooting lane, but Matthews knows a fix to that situation as well.
As Davidson moves his stick from the inside lane toward Matthews, in an attempt to knock the puck loose, Matthews does the opposite and pulls the puck to the inside before letting his shot go. With that subtle move, he gets a perfect shot through despite having a defender right in front of him.
As you can see in the frame above, Matthews pulls the puck in all the way to the face-off dot. That not only allows him to transfer his weight and get a lot of power into his shot, but it also puts him from somewhere on the outside right into a high-danger scoring area.
Finally, Matthews obviously has an incredibly strong and accurate wrist shot. But to score goals like the 2-1 against the Montreal Canadiens, you need more than just a strong wrist shot. Even when the goalie stumbles.
And he makes it look so damn easy.