Auston Matthews can’t miss this year

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Auston Matthews can’t miss this year


Auston Matthews is on a blistering goal-scoring pace.
Image: Getty Images

The Maple Leafs were able to clear some, if not all, the clouds of stink out of ScotiaBank Arena after their collapse against the Senators on Monday by beating those same Sens 2-1 last night. You can be sure the Steve Simmons ilk will still be referencing that pissing away of a four-goal lead to the remedial class All-Stars that is Ottawa to justify whatever gas-leak take they have for the next couple of months, but that’s not newsworthy. Neither is beating the Senators . Nor is the fact that Auston Matthews, top pick of the 2016 draft, scored again. That’s a nightly occurrence now, too.

The fact that Matthews scoring is such a given now is worth study. Matthews has 14 goals in 16 games played. Which puts him ahead of Brock Boeser by two, and Boeser has played four more games than Matthews. He’s setting a pretty ridiculous pace.

In a normal season, having 14 goals in 16 games would still only land us somewhere in the middle of November, and whispers of a 60-goal season or other even loftier projections would remain relatively muted. Though nothing about the Leafs is ever that muted. Still, Matthews is on a near 50-goal pace in just a 56-game season. If this were a normal season, he’d be on pace for 72 goals, and no one’s pierced the 70-goal threshold in the NHL since 1993. Even 60 goals has only been achieved twice this century, by Steven Stamkos and Alex Ovechkin. So it’s a shame that Matthews won’t get a real run at it.

Matthews will likely be in position to win some postseason awards, including the Hart Trophy (although maybe let’s not put him up for Lady Byng this year).

Would he be taking a serious run at 60 or 70 goals had this been a normal season? Will he get near 50 in this abbreviated one? Signs are unclear at the moment, which I know is a stunning conclusion and the type of insight that will keep you coming back for more. You’re welcome.

The first thing we sports myth-busters look for in hockey when someone goes on this type of lost-in-Bangkok binge is shooting percentage. Matthews, 23, is shooting over 20 percent, which would be the highest of his career. But he’s managed an 18 percent shooting-percentage over a season before, so it’s not as if this is some outlandish performance for him. Other players have run a shooting-percentage over 20 percent for a season before, though it’s not that common. Alex Killorn of Tampa did it last year, and over the past five seasons 18 other players have managed it.

So we filter down to the process, i.e. what types and how many chances is Matthews getting. And again, he’s not particularly out of line with what he’s already done. He’s averaging a tick less shots than last year at even-strength, and his individual expected-goals (which measures the types of chances he’s getting rather than just plain shots) is only the third-highest mark of his career, though an improvement on last year. Just more of them are going in, and his 21 percent shooting-percentage just during 5-on-5 play is a massive outlier from the rest of his career. The conclusion would be that’s going to cool, and Matthews will settle in for the 40-50-goal pace over a regular season he’s been on for most of his career.

But it’s on the power play where Matthews might make up for that. Matthews is taking more shots on the man-advantage than he ever has, and is getting better chances as well in terms of ixG/60*. His 22 percent shooting-percentage while on the power play is in line with his career marks, and you’d expect his SH% to stay high on the power play because the quality of chances go up. He’s helped provide one of the league’s most lethal power plays for the Leafs, currently third in the league at 32 percent.

What’s strange is that given that the Leafs are one of the fastest and most creative teams around, they don’t draw a ton of penalties (assuredly future Ontario-based columnist fodder decrying the Pentavorate’s conspiracy to hold the Leafs down). They only rank 15th in power play opportunities overall, and 27th in opportunities per game. If the Leafs could generate more looks with the extra man, it would certainly goose Matthews’s goal totals.

It would have done the league a real heaping helping of good to have Matthews taking a serious run at historic goal marks this season. Especially a year out from the Beijing Olympics, where Matthews will anchor Team USA (NBC might order more penalties called for the Leafs, come to think of it). In order to put up an eye-popping total this year, Matthews is going to have to continue to be William Tell on the ice.

*Advanced stats courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com



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