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What’s the ceiling for Auston Matthews this season?

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Five games into the 2018-19 NHL season and already the Toronto Maple Leafs look like everything they were advertised to be.

Specifically, they have been an offensive juggernaut that few — if any — teams in the NHL will be able to match up with in terms of offensive firepower when they are clicking on all cylinders.

After Thursday’s 5-3 win in Detroit they have already scored 25 goals on the season and have scored at least five in each of their past three games. And they are doing this without one of their top talents in restricted free agent William Nylander, who remains unsigned.

Leading the way has been the team’s newly created two-headed monster at center where Auston Matthews, the franchise cornerstone, and John Tavares, the summer’s big free agent score, have spent the first week of the league making a mockery out of opposing defenses.

As of Friday, the pair have combined to score 15 of the Maple Leafs’ 25 goals, while at least one of them has factored into the scoring (either scoring the goal or assisting on it) on 21 of the 25.

While Tavares has been great, Matthews is the one that is getting the most attention because he literally can not stop scoring goals. With two more on Thursday he is now up to nine goals on the season and has not only found the back of the net in every game, he has scored two goals in four of them.

This has done a couple of things.

First, it has sent what is already an over-the-top hyperbolic Toronto media into overdrive as Matthews’ name is now being thrown into the discussion with Connor McDavid as the league’s best player, and there is the inevitable talk about just how many goals he can score this season. If he continues on this pace he would score approximately 147 goals!

Second — and this makes a lot of the current talk and hype pretty understandable — it is put him in some pretty rare company.

Nine goals in five games is obviously a pretty big deal because, let’s face it, that’s a lot of damn goals no matter when it happens. But when you do it at the start of the season it really gets a lot of attention.

How great is this start? Since the start of the 1987-88 season Matthews is just the fourth different player to score at least nine goals in his team’s first five games, joining a list that includes Alex Ovechkin, Mario Lemieux, and, quite surprisingly, his current Toronto teammate … Patrick Marleau.

Over that same stretch only one other player has scored at least eight goals in his team’s first five games (you will never guess the name) and only 12 others have scored at least seven.

Let’s take a look at those players and what they ended up finishing each season with.

Look at … Mark Parrish?! … with eight goals to open the 2001-02 season.

A few things to note: Marleau’s season was the lockout shortened 2012-13 year, and if you were to project his final numbers out over 82 games it would have put him on a 28-goal pace. John LeClair (2002-03) and Tomas Hertl (2013-14) also had injury shortened seasons that impacted their numbers. Hertl’s start in 2013-14 was the same year he broke Martin Biron and the New York Rangers with that between-the-legs goal as part of a four-goal game.

But what stands out most about this list is that all of these players inevitably slowed down dramatically, with the possible exceptions of Lemieux and Mogilny, as they were the only two on this list that ended up topping the 50-goal mark after their seasons.

Even Ovechkin — for my money the greatest and most dominant goal-scorer in NHL history — failed to hit the 50-goal mark last season after he opened the year with nine goals in his first five games.

The reason for this is simple: All of these stretches are incredible hot streaks where great players go on an unstoppable tear where everything goes in. Those stretches do not last long. Matthews, for example, has literally scored on half of his shots so far this season. You don’t need me to tell you why that is going to cool off.

Over the first two years of his career Matthews was a 15.8 percent shooter, which is still an obscenely high number for the NHL, and there is reason to believe he can sustain that number because he is that good. Let’s just say, hypothetically he spends the remainder of the season scoring on 15.8 of the shots he takes, as he has for his career. And let’s say he averages the same 3.25 shots per game that he has averaged for his career. Those numbers come out to another 39-40 goals, which would put him right in that 50-goal range. And if he manages to do that everyone in Toronto should be ecstatic because 50-goals is a nearly unreachable plateau in the NHL these days.

But that is probably his ceiling.

He is not a 50-in-50 player. He is probably not going to score 60 or more.

I do not point this out to rain on the parade or be some soul-less analytical person that screams UNSUSTAINABLE just because a player is on a hot streak.

Of course streaks like this are unsustainable. But that does not make them any less fun or impressive to watch. And if anything, these “unsustainable” bursts from players like Matthews are the exact thing that makes them great. I’ve beaten this drum so many times over the years that I even hate myself for saying it again, but great goal-scorers don’t score goals on a consistent basis. They score them in bunches like this. They go on streaks like this where everything goes in the net, and then it gets followed up by an eight-or nine-game stretch where they can’t buy a goal.

There is nothing wrong with that. Do not let anyone try to tell you there is something wrong with that.

Too many players (almost always top-tier players) get criticized for being too streaky or inconsistent. On the contrary, streakiness like this is good and “consistency,” at least as it relates to production, is vastly overrated. If you have a player that produces the same thing on a consistent it means they are not capable of reaching this type of level for any stretch of games.

And it is this type of stretch that makes players like Matthews (or Ovechkin, or Sidney Crosby, or Steven Stamkos, or any other top-tier superstar) so valuable.

When they go on a stretch like this it is not only incredibly fun and jaw-dropping to watch, it also carries a team to wins.

So, no. Auston Matthews is not going to keep scoring goals like this.

He does have a ceiling this season that isn’t the billion goal pace he is currently on.

That does not mean you should not enjoy it and appreciate it while it is happening. Because we all know once he hits that inevitable goal slump (and god forbid that slump happens in a playoff series) the same Toronto media that is going wild right now is going to rip him apart like a pack of ravenous wolves.

That won’t be as fun.

So let’s enjoy Auston Matthews now and watch to see what else he is capable of this season.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Lightning ‘stick with it’ as power play thrives in Game 2

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The Lightning power play woke up in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, with plenty of help from the Stars.

Tampa’s power play unit had failed to capitalize on their last 14 chances entering Monday, and had only scored once in their last 18 times with the man advantage. But with Dallas taking three penalties in the opening 13 minutes of the game, opportunity was knocking.

Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat helped Tampa to a 3-2 win to even the series at one. Both power play goals were the result of two key factors that were missing for Tampa. The first was movement. The Lightning were in constant motion, changing angles and opening up space between the Dallas penalty killers. The second was crisp passing, which was highlighted by Nikita Kucherov finding seams to record the primary assists on each tally.

The first goal saw Point set up in the bumper spot and no one positioned in front of Anton Khudobin. Tampa moved the puck from the left side to the Victor Hedman at the point to Kucherov on the right side. The pass to Kucherov forced Blake Comeau to scramble, and he chose to defend the lane back to Hedman at the point. That left more than enough space to connect with Point for his 10th of the playoffs.

“He makes plays like that all the time,” Point said of Kucherov’s pass. “He puts the puck in such good spots for guys to be able to score and be able to succeed.”

[MORE: 3 Takeaways: Lightning top Stars in Game 2]

The passing clinic continued on the next power play. First, Hedman got Andrew Cogliano and Mattias Janmark to bite on his one-timer fake. Kucherov had a fake of his own on Hedman’s pass, forcing too much puck-watching by the Stars. That left Palat unmarked and a cross-ice passing lane available.

“Our PK has had to do a job every game,” said Stars forward Jason Dickinson. “We take a lot of penalties in the playoffs.”

He’s right. Dallas leads the postseason with 106 penalties taken, just ahead of Tampa’s 102. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper and his staff got a first-hand look at the Stars’ shorthanded unit in Game 1, which killed off three power plays. That learning experience paid off in Game 2.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

“I think we’re just trying to stick with it,” Point said. “I think scoring that first goal today, that’s all we’re thinking about. We’re staying positive with the power play. We were crisp on our passes. … I don’t know if it’s a sense of relief, just happy to get a goal.”

Employing personnel who can score on any shift breeds confidence, no matter how much failure is biting you. Frustration wasn’t going to win out in the end, however, and it was only a matter of time before skill would force a Lightning power play breakthrough. And it came at a time when it was needed most.

“This time of year you can’t really get frustrated, you’ve just got to stick with it, wait for your next opportunity,” said defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. We obviously have the guys on this team who can make you pay at any moment.”

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (Series tied 1-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Final

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The Stanley Cup Playoffs continue on Saturday, Sept. 19 in the hub city of Edmonton. Now that we are through the conference finals, the full 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule has been announced.  

The top four teams during the regular season in both conferences played a three-game round robin for seeding in the First Round. The eight winners of the best-of-5 Qualifying Round advanced to the First Round.  

Rogers Place in Edmonton will host 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final.  

Here is the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule.

2020 STANLEY CUP FINAL (Rogers Place – Edmonton)

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (Series tied 1-1)

Game 1: Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Game 2: Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

CONFERENCE FINAL RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Lightning beat Islanders (4-2)

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Stars beat Golden Knights (4-1)

***

SECOND ROUND RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Lightning beat Bruins (4-1)
Islanders beat Flyers (4-3)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Golden Knights beat Canucks (4-3)
Stars beat Avalanche (4-3)

***

NHL QUALIFYING ROUND / ROUND-ROBIN RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Philadelphia Flyers (3-0-0, 6 points)
Tampa Bay Lightning (2-1-0, 4 points)
Washington Capitals (1-1-1, 3 points)
Boston Bruins (0-3-0, 0 points)

Canadiens beat Penguins (3-1)
Hurricanes beat Rangers (3-0)
Islanders beat Panthers (3-1)
Blue Jackets beat Maple Leafs (3-2)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Vegas Golden Knights (3-0-0, 6 points)
Colorado Avalanche (2-1-0, 4 points)
Dallas Stars (1-2-0, 2 points)
St. Louis Blues (0-2-1, 1 point)

Blackhawks beat Oilers (3-1)
Coyotes beat Predators (3-1)
Canucks beat Wild (3-1)
Flames beat Jets (3-1)

***

FIRST ROUND RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Flyers beat Canadiens (4-2)
Lightning beat Blue Jackets (4-1)
Islanders beat Capitals (4-1)
Bruins beat Hurricanes (4-1)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Golden Knights beat Blackhawks (4-1)
Avalanche beat Coyotes (4-1)
Stars beat Flames (4-2)
Canucks beat Blues (4-2)

3 Takeaways: Lightning top Stars in Game 2 of 2020 Stanley Cup Final

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The Stars nearly erased a 3-0 deficit in Game 2 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, but the Lightning held on for a 3-2 win to tie the series 1-1. Let’s mull over three takeaways from the Lightning’s narrow Game 2 win vs. the Stars.

The Stars and Lightning face off in Game 3 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN (livestream).

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

1. Injuries, fatigue haven’t totally blunted the Lightning attack.

More than once early in Game 2 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, it sure seemed like Nikita Kucherov was hurting. Some of us might have felt an impulse to suggest resting the seemingly banged-up winger after Kucherov suffered through this collision with Jamie Oleksiak:

(And that wasn’t even the only scare for Kucherov, although it was the biggest one from Game 2.)

Despite accruing more bumps and bruises, the Lightning showed that their skill can take over against the Stars during the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. Promisingly, Brayden Point rifled home a key 1-0 power-play goal. Being that Point missed significant chunks of the 2020 Eastern Conference Final, seeing Point score was a welcome sight even beyond the scoreboard.

But Kucherov was especially impressive. He made a nice play to set up that Point goal, and the real treat was Kucherov’s tremendous slap-pass to set the stage for Ondrej Palat. Palat almost seemed handcuffed by that great Kucherov feed:

With both Kucherov and Point banged up, and Steven Stamkos still not in the lineup, it doesn’t always look like the Lightning are at full-strength. Apparently they’re pretty dangerous even when they’re not at 100 percent.

2. The Stars are better off in a Game 1-type situation than Game 2.

On one hand, the Stars showed that they’ll fight hard in Game 2. No, it wasn’t enough to erase that 3-0 deficit, but that was a strong push.

And a nasty style? That’s probably in the Stars’ more rugged wheelhouse.

Still, Game 2 served as a reminder that if the Stars had the chance to choose between control or chaos, they’re better off coloring inside the lines.

Recall that, through the first two periods of Game 1, the Stars largely bottled the Lightning. Dallas actually won the SOG fight 18-14 over the opening 40 minutes, then saw the Lightning bombard a keyed-in Anton Khudobin during the third period.

In Game 2, both teams kept streaming to the box, and that burned the Stars like the Texas sun during summer time. It made for wilder, more compelling hockey, but Dallas is better off avoiding the dangerous game of trading chances with Tampa Bay.

To some extent, that problem might sort itself out quite a bit since officials are notorious for avoiding calling just about any subjective penalty as a series goes on. That said, there were unforced errors in Game 2, such as Blake Comeau taking a foolish interference penalty during the second period.

Ultimately, the Stars need to find the right balance between taking away the Lightning’s time and space, while also not having that physical edge push them into the penalty box. That rhythm was off – for Dallas – in Game 2.

3. Andrei Vasilevskiy deserves some attention, too.

It’s only natural for Anton Khudobin to draw a ton of attention. Beyond playing exceptional hockey, his journeyman story just begs for headlines, and probably glossy video features.

Don’t forget about the guy in the other end, though. Even if he’s a prototypically sized goalie who bucked the larger trend and was selected as a first-round pick.

We’re through Game 2 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, and Vasilevskiy hasn’t suffered consecutive losses during this Lightning run.

Tampa Bay needed Vasilevskiy to have a stellar second period, and he didn’t disappoint. Only a Joe Pavelski tip ended up in the Lightning net despite the Stars generating an 18-5 shots on goal advantage in the middle frame. Overall, Vasilevskiy stopped 27 out of 29 shots in Game 2.

It’s not as sexy of a story as Khudobin beating the odds, yet Vasilevskiy living up to huge expectations isn’t exactly chopped liver in narrative form, either.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (Series tied 1-1)

Game 1: Stars 4, Lightning 1. (recap)
Game 2: Lightning 3, Stars 2. (recap)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Lightning ride hot start in Game 2 to tie 2020 Stanley Cup Final vs. Stars

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The Lightning almost watched a 3-0 lead evaporate before their eyes, but they did enough to beat the Stars 3-2 in Game 3, tying the 2020 Stanley Cup Final 1-1.

From here, the two teams approach Game 3 (Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN – livestream) with the 2020 Stanley Cup Final series looking like a coin flip.

Lightning win Game 2 of 2020 Stanley Cup Final thanks to strong start vs. Stars

Back in Game 1, the Lightning failed to score during a busy third period, but they put a lot of pressure on Anton Khudobin.

This time around, the Lightning broke through. Tampa Bay received three consecutive power-play opportunities to begin Game 2, and chasing in with PPG played a big role in taking that crucial 3-0 first-period lead.

Nikita Kucherov sent tremendous passes to Brayden Point (1-0 PPG) and Ondrej Palat (2-0 PPG) to set up those first two goals. Considering the bumps and bruises Kucherov already was dealing with, it’s impressive that he managed that after painful falls like these:

We’re not that deep into the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, yet the Stars and Lightning are already building up some serious bad feelings. Things boiled over more than once in Game 2, including after Ryan McDonagh ended Blake Comeau‘s night early with a bone-rattling hit.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Chalk it up to sitting on a lead or the Stars unleashing the hounds, but either way, Dallas made a serious push to get back into this one. The Stars managed an 18-5 shots on goal advantage during the second period, a frame where there stream of penalties turned into a geyser. Joe Pavelski‘s nice tip for a PPG gave the Stars a shot, and then Mattias Janmark cut the Lightning lead to 3-2 early in the third thanks to a tremendous feed by John Klingberg.

Anton Khudobin’s been getting a lot of attention, yet Andrei Vasilevskiy has been strong during these 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He was sharp when he needed to be on Monday.

Once the Lightning’s lead diminished to 3-2, it seemed like they rose to the task. The Lightning actually managed a significant third-period SOG advantage (12-5), even though the Stars was trying to get back into Game 2.

Mikhail Sergachev seemed to score a 4-2 insurance goal, but a successful offside review pushed it back to 3-2.

That didn’t end up being a turning point in Game 2, as the Lightning shut the door against the Stars, tying the 2020 Stanley Cup Final 1-1.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (Series tied 1-1)

Game 1: Stars 4, Lightning 1. (recap)
Game 2: Lightning 3, Stars 2.
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.