Cold streaks are great fodder for gallows humor on Twitter. Sometimes it’s just too tempting to deflect “it’s early” responses and make sweeping judgments.
In an 82-game NHL season, though? Even the best of teams will go through peaks and valleys.
And, don’t forget, there are only so many goals to go around in any one hockey game. (Yes, even against the woeful Chicago Blackhawks.)
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This post examines cold streaks for key players like Auston Matthews and Nikolaj Ehlers. Team-wide headaches also go under the microscope.
When you zoom out, the message should be clear. Raise an eyebrow, maybe furrow a brow, do both at once if you’re committed. But don’t panic.
Matthews’ slump, and the Maple Leafs’ overall struggles
Being that he’s recovering from wrist surgery, maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that Auston Matthews has zero goals through three games. But it’s not for a lack of trying — or shooting.
In just three games, Matthews fired 17 shots on goal. During his season debut, Matthews fired eight SOG, and was painfully close to his first goal of 2021-22 more than once. Through three games, he’s credited with a blistering 30 shot attempts.
With 41 goals in just 56 games, Matthews won his first Maurice Richard Trophy last season. He also probably set the bar a little too high. It would be a greater concern if Matthews was trigger-shy, or failing to get any chances. Instead, he just needs a bounce.
The key with Matthews’ lack of goals is, simply, to be patient. Unfortunately, when it comes to hockey anxiety, Toronto’s amplifiers go to 11. Ultimately, Maple Leafs fans and media really shouldn’t even point at Matthews’ zero goals.
Update: Just 3:25 into Monday’s Hurricanes – Maple Leafs game, Matthews scored his first goal of the season.
Now, Mitch Marner being limited to zero goals and one assist through six games? A bit more worrisome, considering how the playoff collapse seemed to affect him. Ultimately, the points will probably come for Marner.
Personally, I’d be most concerned about the Maple Leafs’ power play. The unit’s converting at just a 15.79-percent rate this season. That’s after being at 20-percent in 2020-21, a hair above league-average. Both represent notable drop-offs from their explosive 2019-20 rate of 23 percent.
Maybe it’s just a matter of Matthews breaking through, and offense flowing through that relief. Considering the premium talent (and premium prices) on the Maple Leafs’ roster, they need to find answers soon.
Nikolaj Ehlers is not one of the Jets’ hottest shooters
With six goals (and nine points) in five games, Jets sniper Kyle Connor is red-hot. Pierre-Luc Dubois‘ puck luck has been even kinder (his four goals come on just eight SOG [50 shooting percentage], while Connor is unsustainable but at least on Earth [27.3 percent]).
Nikolaj Ehlers would kindly request that Dubois and Connor share some of that good fortune.
Despite firing 22 SOG, Ehlers hasn’t managed to score a goal this season. Those 22 SOG are the most of any player without a goal.
Luckily, Ehlers and Jets coach Paul Maurice aren’t panicking about the lack of goals. At least not yet. Their comments instead fixate on Ehlers getting more chances from the inside, rather than low-percentage, perimeter shots.
By scoring 21 goals in just 47 games last season, Ehlers went from an underground darling to more of a mainstream star. Still, he might have set expectations too high. Was it realistic to expect 40 goals from a player who’s never reached 30?
Granted, with a prime-age player as talented as Ehlers, it’s tempting to dream big. Chances are, he’ll break out of this slump. (Especially if Maurice isn’t just giving Ehlers more ice time due to COVID/injury absences.)
Ducks not quite in a row
Considering the below-sea-level expectations of the Ducks, a 2-3-1 record is a respectable start. You could even talk yourself into bigger things, being that the aging face of the Ducks (Ryan Getzlaf) and the new face (Trevor Zegras) both can’t buy a bucket.
Through six games, both fired 17 SOG. Neither Getzlaf nor Zegras has scored a goal yet. (Getzlaf has four assists; Zegras just one.)
Those numbers aren’t all bad. Here’s why.
- People have been clamoring for Getzlaf to unleash his heavy shot more often for years. Better late than never?
- Most importantly, it’s great that Zegras is so assertive, right off the bat.
The Ducks are willing to put him out there quite a bit, too. So far, Zegras logged an average ice time of 17:03 per game (not far from Getzlaf’s 17:30). During the past four games, Zegras received at least 18:03 TOI.
Maybe ice-cold scoring will cool the Ducks on Zegras, even briefly. But that hasn’t happened so far. Frankly, that’s almost as good a sign as Zegras lighting the lamp. The better the Ducks can develop talents like Zegras, the better the future will look.
Other NHL cold streaks/slumps that should thaw out
- Yes, the Golden Knights are missing high-end talent such as Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty. And, even during better times, Vegas’ power play’s been a touch disappointing.
All of that said, the Golden Knights’ power play sits at a goose-egg this season (0-for-11 in five games). Every other team in the NHL’s scored two or more.
The best way to break through might be to get more chances. The Canadiens’ power play looks weak, too, but they’ve salvaged two PPG from 23 opportunities in just six GP to the Golden Knights’ five.
- The Capitals will probably take chances on their power plays. Still, don’t expect them to barely outscore opponents on the man advantage (three power play goals, two shorthanded allowed) over the long haul.
- The Canadiens (57.1-percent), Jets (54.6), Kings (53.3), and Coyotes (36.4) all suffer from sub-60-percent penalty kills. By killing just 71-percent of their penalties, last season’s Devils PK ranked the lowest of the salary cap era. Yes, Arizona might flirt with 71-percent, but all of those units should at least stabilize going forward.
- Overall, it could be a tough season for Marc-Andre Fleury (.839 save percentage), along with Kraken goalies Chris Driedger (.857) and Philipp Grubauer (.869). It would be surprising if their struggles remained this extreme, however.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.