Auston Matthews is having the perfect season of his profession and the perfect scoring season within the storied historical past of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Nevertheless it will not imply a lot except he and his crew can lastly get it collectively within the NHL playoffs.
In his first 5 seasons after being chosen first general by Toronto within the 2016 NHL draft, Matthews scored 40, 34, 37, 47, and 41 objectives, so loads of folks anticipated him to push on for 50 this season. However few anticipated him to have 58, with 5 video games nonetheless remaining for his crew.
It’s the highest whole within the league since Steven Stamkos had 60 for the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2011-12. Extra essential for Toronto followers, it’s a Leafs report, surpassing the 54 scored by Rick Vaive in 1981-82.
That places Matthews, 24, above loads of Leafs greats from through the years, together with legends like Mats Sundin, Dave Keon, Darryl Sittler and Frank Mahovlich.
His 44 assists are additionally a profession excessive, as are his marks in photographs, takeaways and even face-off win share. He leads the league in hat methods, with 4, double anybody else. And all these numbers come regardless of his sitting out the crew’s final two video games with a minor harm, resting for the playoffs that start on Might 2. (All numbers by means of Tuesday evening’s video games.)
That suite of statistics has made him a favourite to wrest the Hart Memorial Trophy as most dear participant away from Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers.
As with nearly any participant who considerably will increase his purpose whole, Matthews is capturing considerably extra, 563 instances up to now, with 330 of them on web. However his capturing share this season, 17.6, is true in step with his profession numbers, an indication that his workload is growing organically and never that he has been hogging the puck.
Another excuse gamers’ purpose totals instantly improve is as a result of they’re more and more used on the facility play. Whereas Matthews’s energy play purpose whole, 15, is a profession excessive, it’s in step with his final two full seasons, when he had 12 in every. (He had 10 final season in 52 video games.) His even-strength objectives whole of 43 up to now is eight greater than his profession finest and 10 greater than the closest competitor within the league.
(Quick-handed play will not be part of Matthews’s recreation. He has no objectives or assists, and only one shot short-handed in his profession.)
And whereas protection is more durable to quantify, and generally not as essential to a middle, Matthews is extensively touted as a standout on that finish of the ice as properly.
Matthews owes a few of his success to a line that’s severely clicking. His proper wing, Mitch Marner, has 61 assists, rating him within the prime 10 within the league, and left wing Michael Bunting is a candidate to be rookie of the yr at age 26.
The top result’s that the Leafs have 108 factors, third finest within the league, and are being talked up as a real Stanley Cup contender.
However nobody is engraving their names on the trophy simply but. Partly that’s as a result of the groups above them, the Florida Panthers and the Colorado Avalanche, each look distinctive. However additionally it is as a result of the Leafs have had a behavior of crashing within the playoffs, typically to groups that look worse on paper.
Final season, the crew took a 3-1 collection lead within the first spherical towards the Montreal Canadiens, solely to lose two video games in additional time after which Recreation 7 at dwelling. Matthews failed to attain in any of these final three video games.
In 2020, they misplaced within the qualifying spherical to the Columbus Blue Jackets. In 2019 and 2018, they misplaced to the Boston Bruins within the opening spherical in seven video games.
The crew has not gained any playoff collection since 2004 and has not gained the Cup since 1967.
When groups lose a whole lot of shut collection, there are two widespread explanations. One is that they had been unfortunate. The opposite is that they one way or the other couldn’t ship within the clutch. Leafs followers might be hoping arduous that the primary rationalization applies to their crew.
It’s a quirk of the present NHL that maybe its two largest stars, Matthews and McDavid, have didn’t go on playoff runs. McDavid, the reigning MVP with the Edmonton Oilers, is now in his seventh yr, however has only one playoff spherical win.
Though not notably heralded this yr, the Oilers do look set for the playoffs. A Leafs-Oilers Stanley Cup last, anybody, with Matthews and McDavid contesting the opening face-off?
Two units of Canadian followers would like to see it, and you observed a whole lot of impartial followers would additionally. It would assist to make up for the United States-Canada Olympic gold medal recreation we by no means received.