Auston Matthews is having a rookie season for the ages

8 Comments

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

WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins vs Los Angeles Kings

Getty Images
Leave a comment

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

PROJECTED LINES

Pittsburgh Penguins

Dominik SimonSidney Crosby — Daniel Sprong

Carl HagelinEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

Conor ShearyJake GuentzelPhil Kessel

Tom KuhnhacklRiley SheahanRyan Reaves

Brian DumoulinKris Letang

Olli MaattaJustin Schultz

Matt HunwickJamie Oleksiak

Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

[NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Sabres vs. Rangers; Penguins vs. Kings]

Los Angeles Kings

Adrian KempeAnze KopitarDustin Brown

Tanner PearsonTrevor LewisTyler Toffoli

Alex IafalloNick ShoreMarian Gaborik

Kyle Clifford — Michael Amadio — Jonny Brodzinski

Derek ForbortDrew Doughty

Jake MuzzinAlec Martinez

Kevin Gravel — Christian Folin

Starting goalie: Jonathan Quick

Eric Lindros’ famed No. 88 retired in Philadelphia

2 Comments

No. 88 has always hung from the rafters in the minds of Philadelphia Flyers fans.

The organization seemed to revere it as well. No one but Eric Lindros has ever worn the number.

And on Thursday night in the City of Brotherly Love, those fans could finally see it with their own eyes.

The Big E’s famous No. 88 in Flyers orange and black was retired at Wells Fargo Center, raised to hang next to the names of Bernie Parent, Mark Howe, Barry Ashbee, Bill Barber and Bobby Clarke.

“Without any doubt, this is the highest honor the organization can bestow on one of its members,” said Flyers president Paul Holmgren, who addressed the packed house. “Take a look at the rafters, only five players out of 600 to have ever worn the orange and black, and now that number will be six.

“When we raise your number in a few moments, know you’re back where you belong, and this time, it’s forever.”

Moments earlier, Lindros stood at center ice, waving at the standing ovation that engulfed the arena that encircled him.

“Wow. Haha. This is crazy,” Lindros said, peering out into the sea of orange and black as he followed Holmgren at the center-ice podium. 

“It’s no secret that when I left Philadelphia, it was under less than ideal circumstances,” Lindros said, crediting Holmgren and his wife Kina with helping him move.

Lindros sat out the entire 2000-01 season due to a contract dispute with Clarke and the organization.

Lindros was crushed by Scott Stevens in the playoffs in the previous season and was only cleared to play the following December. The Flyers had offered, and Lindros refused a two-way qualifying offer. Lindros, instead, wanted to be traded, with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs the preferred destination after his once-strong relationship with Clarke had deteriorated. Clarke refused to trade him at first, but finally did so in the following offseason, not to Toronto, but to the New York Rangers in the summer of 2001.

“Both, in their own ways, have taught me to move on, put in the past any differences of opinion, any hard feelings,” Lindros said. “It was time to remember the great moments I experienced here in Philadelphia, the friendships I’ve built in this great city and the respect I have for the fans of this team.”

Lindros was a member of the ‘Legion of Doom,’ a line that consisted of John LeClair and Mikael Renberg that dominated opponents and altered the game of hockey in the 1990s. Lindros acknowledged several people, including former general manager Russ Farwell, who brought Lindros, Mark Recchi and Rob Brind’Amour into the team and drafted Mikael Renberg.

Lindros also thanked Clarke, and said LeClair should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Lindros was one of the most physically gifted and dominating players to ever play in the NHL, a man who towered over most, skated better than most and score better than most.

Lindros won the Hart Trophy during the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season. He played 486 games in Flyers threads, scoring 290 goals and amassing 659 points.

In 2016, Lindros was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Roberto Luongo could return to practice soon

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The mandatory off week for the Florida Panthers appears to have done wonders for injured goaltender Roberto Luongo.

The Panthers No. 1 netminder has “turned a corner” as he continues to rehab a lower-body injury, Panthers head coach Bob Boughner said on Thursday.

The Panthers practiced for the first time since their mandatory break on Thursday, and although Luongo is still on pace for a return early next month, the news was good to hear for a team nine points adrift of the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference.

“I think he’s turned a corner a little bit,” Boughner told reporters after the team’s practice. “He’s showing some good improvement here in the last few days. We’re excited to hopefully get him back out on the ice during a practice at some upcoming point.”

Luongo hasn’t played since Dec. 4, when he was injured in a 5-4 shootout loss to the New York Islanders.

The news of Luongo’s pending return was probably a little music to the ears of James Reimer.

Reimer has started Florida’s past 16 games, posting an 8-6-2 record with .924 save percentage during that span, but ran into the break losing four of his previous five starts.

Still, Reimer has performed admirably in Luongo’s absence, as he bounced back from an unfavorable start to the season that saw Luongo regain the starter’s reins.

The Panthers will have five games in-hand on Pittsburgh Penguins, who entered Thursday occupying the final spot. They play the Los Angeles Kings live on NBCSN at 10 p.m. ET.

The Panthers return to action on Friday when they host the visiting Vegas Golden Knights.

Reimer is expected to start No. 17.

WATCH LIVE: Buffalo Sabres at New York Rangers

Getty
Leave a comment

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

PROJECTED LINES

Buffalo Sabres

Benoit PouliotJack EichelKyle Okposo

Evander KaneRyan O'ReillyJason Pominville

Zemgus GirgensonsEvan RodriguesSam Reinhart

Scott WilsonJohan LarssonJordan Nolan

Marco ScandellaRasmus Ristolainen

Jake McCabeJustin Falk

Josh Gorges — Casey Nelson

Starting goalie: Robin Lehner

[NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Sabres vs. Rangers; Penguins vs. Kings]

New York Rangers

Rick NashMika ZibanejadPavel Buchnevich

Mats ZuccarelloJ.T. Miller — Vinni Lettieri

Jimmy VeseyDavid DesharnaisPaul Carey

Michael Grabner — Peter Holland — Jesper Fast

Ryan McDonaghNick Holden

Brady SkjeiKevin Shattenkirk

Brendan SmithSteven Kampfer

Starting goalie: Henrik Lundqvist