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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.

WATCH LIVE: Flyers, Sharks meet on NBCSN

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the San Jose Sharks and Philadelphia Flyers at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch that game online by clicking here

The San Jose Sharks started their current five-game road trip with a solid 3-2 overtime win against the Los Angeles Kings on Friday. On Monday, they followed that up with a flat performance during a 4-0 loss to the New York Islanders. They don’t have much time to regroup as they face the Philadelphia Flyers a little more than 36 hours later.

In this particular matchup, the Sharks have dominated and won 18 of their last 23 meetings with the Flyers dating back to 2002.

Joe Thornton (knee) and James van Riemsdyk (lower body) will both miss out.

What could help get the Sharks going is waking up their power play, which is a shocking 0-for-10 so far. They did have nine chances Monday in Brookyln, but failed to capitalize on four opportunities.

Brian Elliott has started every game for the Flyers this season as Michal Neuvirth heals up and they allow Calvin Pickard to settle in after being claimed on waivers from Toronto last week. Philadelphia plays the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday, which would be a good opportunity to give their No. 1 in Elliott a rest.

What: San Jose Sharks at Philadelphia Flyers
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia
When: Tuesday, October 9th, 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Sharks-Flyers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

Sharks
Timo MeierJoe PavelskiMelker Karlsson
Tomas HertlLogan CoutureKevin Labanc
Evander KaneAntti SuomelaJoonas Donskoi
Barclay Goodrow – Rourke Chartier – Marcus Sorensen

Marc-Edouard VlasicErik Karlsson
Joakim RyanBrent Burns
Brenden DillonJustin Braun

Starting goalie: TBA

[WATCH LIVE – 7:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Flyers
Claude GirouxSean CouturierJakub Voracek
Oskar LindblomNolan PatrickTravis Konecny
Jordan WealMikhail VorobyovWayne Simmonds
Scott LaughtonJori LehteraMichael Raffl

Ivan ProvorovShayne Gostisbehere
Robert HaggAndrew MacDonald
Travis SanheimRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Brian Elliott

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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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.

The Buzzer: Capitals keep party going, Matthews starts strong

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Three Stars

1. Auston MatthewsWith a booming shot to tie the game up 1-1, Matthews made a compelling argument that he probably deserved more reps on the Maple Leafs’ power play unit all along. In overtime, Matthews took a great feed from Patrick Marleau and scored the overtime game-winner.

Matthews certainly wants to be more than this, but if an Austin Powers nickname doesn’t work (Ron Howard: “It doesn’t), then “Mr. Opening Night” could at least be a good placeholder for the American forward.

With a contract year providing that extra bit of human nature motivation, and hopefully a clean bill of health this season, Matthews could put together a truly massive 2018-19 season.

He’s already shown that he has a knack for making great first impression, as tonight’s two-goal performance inspires inevitable comparison to Matthews making NHL history with four goals in his first game. Sure, he scored half as many goals, yet the Maple Leafs won this time around.

Also, if you’re into this sort of thing: Matthews: 2, John Tavares: 1.

2. John GibsonOpening night featured quite a few similar performances for goalies. You could make a legitimate argument for any one of Frederik Andersen and Jacob Markstrom enjoyed very similar nights, propping up their teams during moments of duress.

Gibson justified his status as something of a critical darling with a night like this, largely stealing this game against a loaded Sharks team. He stopped 31 out of 33 shots, and both of San Jose’s goals were brilliant. It seemed like they needed to be.

Via Natural Stat Trick, the Sharks generated a 14-2 advantage in “high-danger” chances, but it didn’t matter. Gibson was that good.

3. Evgeny KuznetsovMuch like with Gibson (and Matthews), you could quibble with Kuznetsov’s placement in the top three tonight. After all, many players generated two points, and some hit three (including Rickard Rakell, Kuznetsov’s teammate Nicklas Backstrom, and Jakob Silfverberg).

Kuznetsov didn’t just stand out for scoring two goals (including a 2-0 tally that really started to dig the hole for Boston). The Russian center was a consistent nuisance for the Bruins, nearly netting a hat trick while firing five shots on goal.

As much as people wonder about Washington’s chances to repeat, consider that Kuznetsov generated 83 points last season, and might just be able to do that, well, back-to-back.

Highlight of the Night: Goodness gracious, Tomas Hertl scored a ridiculous shorthanded goal for the San Jose Sharks. It wasn’t enough to earn the Sharks a win or even a “charity point,” but it dropped jaws all the same.

Rough stuff

Along with Brad Marchand bloodying Lars Eller (way more on that here), Erik Gudbranson really got the best of Travis Hamonic to add injury to the insults of a tough night for Calgary.

Factoids

If Auston Matthews is “Mr. Opening Night,” then Martin Jones is … well, not. Or at least Jones isn’t “Mr. Opening Minutes.”

It seems like the Canucks might be the Auston Matthews of NHL teams … at least when it comes to opening night. Elias Pettersson made quite the rookie first impression in his own right, collecting a goal and an assist.

Chin up, Bruins fans; at least it’s been a long time since Boston’s endured such a rough opening night of NHL action.

Tonight’s scores

Maple Leafs 3, Canadiens 2 (OT)
Capitals 7, Bruins 0
Canucks 5, Flames 2
Ducks 5, Sharks 2

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.

Ducks stun Sharks, spoil Karlsson’s debut

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Heading into opening night, it seemed like the Sharks would only lose and the Ducks would only win for a simple reason: goaltending.

That was pretty much the case on Wednesday, as John Gibson played a huge role in Anaheim upsetting San Jose 5-2. The American-born goalie celebrated his contract extension by stopping 31 out of 33 shots, keeping the Ducks in the game even as they allowed 24 shots on goal in the second period alone.

It seemed like the Sharks needed works of art to beat John Gibson, and this Tomas Hertl goal was exactly that:

Meanwhile, it was a tough night for Martin Jones, whose lowest point came on a Brandon Montour tally (one that just can’t happen when the goalie at the other end is standing on his head):

Heading into this game, the Sharks boasted a “Who’s who” lineup, as Erik Karlsson adds staggering firepower to a lineup that already made the playoffs last season. On the other hand, injuries forced the Ducks to roll with a group that would elicit a “Who?” response from even most hardcore hockey fans.

It’s fitting, then, that a big move came when Max Comtois scored his first NHL goal in his first game, quieting “The Shark Tank” with a 1-0 goal just 49 seconds into the game.

To wade through choppy waters without the likes of Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler, and Ondrej Kase, the Ducks need “no-name” players to step up … but they’re still forced to rely on big names. Gibson delivered in an authoritative way, and so did other important Ducks. Anaheim received key three-point outputs from Rickard Rakell and Jakob Silfverberg, while Adam Henrique and Ryan Getzlaf came up big, too.

While there were plenty of flashes of the brilliance expected from Karlsson, it wasn’t the ideal first night in teal. The superb Swede suffered a -2 rating, only fired one shot on goal, and failed to generate a point while logging almost 27 minutes (26:48) in his Sharks debut.

The good news is that Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer is finding ways to get both of his star defensemen on the ice, as Brent Burns logged 25:18 in this one. Unfortunately, their presence didn’t pay big dividends on special teams; while the Ducks went 2-for-3 (albeit giving up Hertl’s shorthanded goal), the Sharks failed to convert on three opportunities.

Again, San Jose still generally dominated the flow of play and puck possession, even if they didn’t have much to show for it on the scoreboard.

It’s just one game, yet if nothing else, it’s a real confidence-booster for a Ducks team that will need to be plucky to overcome this early stretch of injuries. Gibson and their healthy top guys are the key there, and for at least one night, that was enough against a potential juggernaut (or megalodon?) in the Sharks.

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.

 

WATCH LIVE: Sharks, Ducks meet on Wednesday Night Hockey

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The first night of NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season ends with the San Jose Sharks vs. the Anaheim Ducks at 10:30 p.m. ET.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

SHARKS
Timo MeierJoe ThorntonJoe Pavelski
Tomas HertlLogan CoutureKevin Labanc
Evander KaneAntti SuomelaJoonas Donskoi
Marcus SorensenBarclay GoodrowMelker Karlsson

Marc-Edouard VlasicErik Karlsson
Joakim RyanBrent Burns
Brenden DillonJustin Braun

Starting goalie: Martin Jones

[WATCH LIVE: 10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; live stream here]

DUCKS
Rickard RakellRyan GetzlafTroy Terry
Max ComtoisAdam HenriqueJakob Silfverberg
Andrew Cogliano – Sam Steel – Pontus Aberg
Ben Street – Carter Rowney – Kiefer Sherwood

Cam FowlerJosh Manson
Hampus LindholmBrandon Montour
Marcus PetterssonLuke Schenn

Starting goalie: John Gibson

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule