Auston Matthews is having a rookie season for the ages

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With his two goals on Sunday during the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 5-4 Centennial Classic win over the Detroit Red Wings, Auston Matthews hit a nice little milestone in his rookie season by reaching the 20-goal mark.

It not only moves him back ahead of Winnipeg Jets forward Patrik Laine for the rookie goal scoring lead, but also moved him into a tie with Los Angeles Kings forward Jeff Carter for the No. 2 spot in the entire NHL.

We should talk about this a little bit because what Matthews is doing is this pretty incredible for a first year player that is still a year away from celebrating his 20th birthday (and we will include Laine in this as well, because he is from the same draft class and is the same age and is scoring at almost equally absurd rate).

First, just reaching the 20-goal mark is a significant accomplishment on its own.

In the history of the league he is only the 57th player to be under the age of 20 and score at least 20 goals during their first season in the league. But remember, he has reached that number in only 36 games to this point.

If you project his current goal scoring pace out over an 82-game season he is currently on a pace for 45 goals this season.

As a 19-year-old.

If he maintains that pace, or anything even close to it and at least tops the 40-goal mark, it would put him in a pretty exclusive club as only five players under the age of 20 have scored more than 40 goals in their first season in the league.

The list is an impressive one (numbers via Hockey-Reference).

  1. Wayne Gretzky scored 51 goals during the 1979-80 season at the age of 19.
  2. Dale Hawerchuk scored 45 during the 1981-82 season at the age of 18.
  3. Mario Lemieux scored 43 during the 1984-85 season at the age of 18.
  4. Eric Lindros scored 41 during the 1992-93 season at the age of 19.
  5. Sylvain Turgeon scored 40 during the 1983-84 season at the age of 19.

Sidney Crosby just missed making this list in 2005-06 when he scored 39 goals at the age of 18.

What stands out about this list, aside from the fact that there are only five players (including four Hall of Famers) is that all of them had those seasons during a time when goal scoring was at its peak level in the league.

Just consider that during the 1983-84 season when Turgeon scored his 40 goals for the Hartford Whalers, there were 24 players that topped the 40-goal mark.

Auston Matthews is not playing in such an era.

By comparison, there are only four players that are currently on a pace for 40 goals this season — Sidney Crosby, Jeff Carter, Auston Matthews, and David Pastrnak.

Laine, whose rookie season is just as impressive as Matthews’, is just under that pace, currently on track for 39 goals if he continues on his same pace.

You have to go back to the 2010-11 season to find the most recent time the NHL had more than four 40-goal scorers in a single season, and even then there were only five.

It is simply a number that only a very small handful of the very best players are capable of reaching in a given season. The only two players that can seem to do it with any level of consistency are Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos.

The question for Matthews is going to be whether or not he is going to be able to maintain this pace for the rest of the season. A quick look at the numbers that can help us project that are certainly encouraging for him and the Maple Leafs.

First, it is not like his goal total this season is the result of an unreasonable high or unsustainable shooting percentage. Currently at 15 percent it is definitely a higher number than your average NHL forward, but Matthews isn’t your average NHL forward. That number is probably right around what you could reasonably expect for a player with his skill set.

But what is most encouraging for him is the fact that he puts a ton of shots on goal, and that is the absolute biggest factor in being a consistent, top goal scorer. Players that have a huge goal scoring season that is carried by a high shooting percentage and low shot volume tend to regress the next year or cool down as that particular season progresses. The elites do it through shot volume, and right now that is exactly what Matthews is giving the Maple Leafs. After Sunday’s game his 3.70 shot per game average is currently the third best mark in the NHL (minimum 20 games played) behind only San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns and Alex Ovechkin.  If you wanted to look for an area where Matthews separates himself from Laine, this would be it (Laine is shooting at 18 percent and averaging a full shot per game less than Matthews).

At some point he is going to hit another dry spell in the goal scoring department this season because it happens to every player in the league at some point (it’s already happened to Matthews himself this season, and everybody briefly freaked out about it). But when you have a player that is posting dominant possession numbers and gets a ton of pucks on net the way Matthews is, and also has incredible talent he is also going to be capable of scoring goals in bunches the way he has over the past month.

Right now the Maple Leafs are making a serious push for a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division, and what is looking to be a rather historic season for the No. 1 overall pick is playing a pretty massive role in it.

More: Maple Leafs win Centennial Classic thriller

The Buzzer: Penguins rally, Golden Knights dominate again

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Two games to open the second-round on Thursday night

Pittsburgh Penguins 3, Washington Capitals 2 (Penguins lead series 1-0)

The Pittsburgh Penguins trailed by two goals with 16 minutes to play in regulation and then scored three consecutive goals to take Game 1 against the Washington Capitals. They did this without Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin.

Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel helped provide the offense while Matt Murray made some huge saves all night in net to keep the game close and help protect the lead in the closing minutes. This is already the third game the Capitals have lost this postseason when leading by two goals. They have only played in seven postseason games to this point.

The Penguins could be getting Malkin back for Game 2.

Vegas Golden Knights 7, San Jose Sharks 0 (Golden Knights lead series 1-0)

They have played in five playoff games so far, they have won five playoff games. After sweeping the Los Angeles Kings in the first-round the Vegas Golden Knights opened the second-round on Thursday night with a systematic dismantling of the San Jose Sharks, scoring four goals in the first period on their way to a 7-0 win. Everything about this team remains incredible. The speed the play with. How relentless they are on the attack. How great Marc-Andre Fleury is playing in net. The way they just overwhelm every opponent they face.

Vegas scored more goals against San Jose on Thursday (three more goals to be exact) than the Anaheim Ducks did in their entire four-game series in the first round. In five playoff games Vegas is now outscoring its opponents by a 14-3 margin. They had seven different players score goals on Thursday while 11 different players recorded at least one point. Seven of them recorded at least two points..

Making matters worse for the Sharks is that they may have to play Game 2 without one of their top forwards, Evander Kane, after he was ejected in the third period for a cross-check to the head.

This game was such a laugher by the end that Fleury was doing the wave in the third period with the fans.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Three Stars

1. Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights. It will get lost in the fact Vegas won the game 7-0, but Fleury is just playing out of his mind this postseason. He already has three shutouts in five games and has allowed just three goals total. He has a .981 save percentage in the playoffs. When he was healthy the 2017-18 season was one of the best of his career and he is continuing that in the playoffs. With a goaltender playing this well and a deep, balanced offense that can score the way they can this Vegas team is looking like a team that really could win the whole thing this year.

2. Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins. He has simply been incredible for the Penguins in the playoffs. He has 15 points (seven goals, eight assists) so far this postseason and over the past two years is now up to 20 goals and 17 assists, including seven game-winning goals.

3. Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins. He did not play great in the Penguins’ first-round series clinching win against the Philadelphia Flyers, giving up five goals including a couple of clunkers. He was outstanding on Thursday and was one of the difference-makers in the game for the Penguins. He stopped 32 of 34 shots including 17 out of 18 in the third period.

Factoid of the Night

Another Marc-Andre Fleury fact for you.

Friday’s schedule

Winnipeg Jets vs. Nashville Predators, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Evander Kane ejected for cross-checking Bellemare in the head

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The first game of the second-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs turned out to be a total dumpster fire for the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night.

Not only were they completely dominated from the opening faceoff by the Vegas Golden Knights, they also lost their composure, taking nine penalties and giving Vegas two separate 5-on-3 power plays on the night.

The second two-man advantage happened because Sharks forward Evander Kane got himself thrown out of the game for cross-checking Pierre-Edouard Bellemare in the face after the whistle.

You can see the play in the video above.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

That came with the Sharks already trailing 5-0 on on the scoreboard. Vegas converted twice on the ensuing major penalty to open up a 7-0 lead.

This could have quite an impact on the series because that will probably get a serious look from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety for a potential suspension. The league has already issued four suspensions this postseason and we have only completed one round of the playoffs. Keep in mind there was only one suspension throughout the entire postseason a year ago.

Acquired from the Buffalo Sabres at the NHL trade deadline, Kane entered play on Thursday with three goals and an assist in the Sharks’ first four playoff games. He scored 29 goals and had 54 total points during the regular season in 78 games. Nine of those goals and five of those assists came as a member of the Sharks.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Vegas jumps all over Sharks with four first period goals, wins in rout

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The Vegas Golden Knights magic does not appear to be running out.

After stunning the hockey world by winning the Pacific Division in their inaugural season, Vegas easily dispatched the Los Angeles Kings in the first-round with a clean four-game sweep, setting the stage for a second-round matchup with the San Jose Sharks.

That second-round matchup opened on Thursday night and Vegas continued to do what it has done all season — jump all over teams early and with no mercy and never slow down.

The Golden Knights opened the game with four consecutive goals in the first period on their way to a 7-0 win in Game 1.

They received goals from seven different players while 11 different players recorded at least one point. Seven of those players had at least two points in the win.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Alex Tuch‘s goal to close out the first period scoring was especially beautiful as he effortlessly cut through four Sharks defenders

Just in case you have forgotten, the Golden Knights ended up getting Tuch because the Minnesota Wild gave him to them to convince them to take Haula in the expansion draft, and they were able to get Marchessault from the Florida Panthers for taking on Reilly Smith‘s contract. A lot of general managers around the NHL made bad decisions to help build this team.

Sharks goalie Martin Jones was pulled after giving up the fifth goal early in the second period. He was replaced by Aaron Dell who went on to give up a pair of power play goals in the third period after Evander Kane was given a five-minute major penalty — and ejected — for cross-checking Pierre-Edouard Bellemare in the head.

Along with the offensive outburst, Marc-Andre Fleury also recorded his third shutout of the playoffs. Vegas has only played five games.

Related: Don’t blame expansion draft rules for Vegas’ success, blame your GM

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Penguins stun Capitals with Game 1 comeback

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With the Pittsburgh Penguins entering Game 1 of their second-round series without Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin, it looked like a great opportunity for the Washington Capitals to jump on them early.

Through 45 minutes it seemed like that was going to happen.

Braden Holtby was stopping everything in net. Alex Ovechkin scored 25 seconds into the third period to give the Capitals a two-goal lead. They were in a great position to take the first game of the series.

Then, for already the third time this postseason, the Capitals allowed a two-goal lead to turn into a loss when the Penguins scored three consecutive goals in four minutes to storm back for a 3-2 win.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The Pittsburgh comeback started with a Patric Hornqvist deflection of a Justin Schultz shot to finally beat Holtby.

Then the Sidney CrosbyJake Guentzel connection took over.

Crosby tied the game just three minutes after Hornqvist’s goal when he one-timed a shot off the rush that beat Holtby through the five-hole, and then Guentzel gave the Penguins the lead when he was able to get his stick on a Crosby shot to beat Holtby. Both Crosby and Guentzel have seven goals on this postseason, while Guentzel has factored into eight of the Penguins’ past nine goals over the past two games. He has scored five of them. Overall this postseason he has 15 total points (seven goals, eight assists) in seven games. This after after leading the league in postseason goal-scoring a season ago.

The Penguins have now won consecutive games without Malkin after taking Game 6 in Philadelphia on Sunday. That game also saw the Penguins erase a two-goal deficit thanks to four third period goals. Malkin traveled with the team to Washington, skated with the team on Thursday, and could be available for Game 2 on Sunday afternoon. The extra day off between games could be helpful for him.

Meanwhile, Penguins goalie Matt Murray was tremendous when he needed to be on Thursday night and played a huge role in the comeback, even if it might get lost in the third period goal-scoring outburst. The two goals he gave up were on odd-man rushes following defensive breakdowns in front of him (including one just 17 seconds into the game when Evgeny Kuznetsov was able to walk in alone), but other than that he was nearly flawless the rest of the way, stopping 32 of the 34 shots he faced.

Game 2 is Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.