Which are the goals that puts Auston Matthews in a league of his own?
There was a time during this very same hockey season, impossible though it now seems, where the conversation on Real Kyper on Bourne was about whether Auston Matthews was too far behind Alex Ovechkin in the goal chase to win this year’s Rocket Richard Trophy. Matthews missed the Toronto Maple Leafs’ first few games following a wrist procedure which may or may not have contributed to an October that looked like it did below. Note the goals and points.
He scored once in the month of October, and sat behind Alex Ovechkin by a good distance, who’s October went like this:
That’s nine goals in eight games.
With Matthews eight goals back at that point, I’m proud to say our show didn’t embarrass ourselves, as we emphasized the ridiculous amount of the season to go, and how Matthews was prone to scoring in bunches.
His recent “run” or “bunch” if you will, has consisted of scoring 49 times in the past 49 games, which has extended his lead in the pursuit of the Rocket Richard to six goals over Leon Draisaitl. Draisaitl managed to draw even at 50 apiece before the Leafs latest road trip that saw Matthews score six times in four games over a single week.
Having watched back every goal Matthews has scored en route to what’s likely going to be his second consecutive Rocket Richard Trophy, I was watching to figure out one thing: which are the goals that put him above and beyond the other greats? Hell, most players don’t score 20 in a season, so it’s safe to say most guys can’t score a lot of the goals he scores. But I wanted to know what the things are that make him better than the other elite finishers in the NHL.
I’ll go through my list of reasons, then I implore you to watch the final video. It’s a seven second replay clip for each of his goals over the past season, which is a family-sized bag of chips of a video. I say “bag of chips” because you don’t sit down to consume the whole thing, but once you start, it’s super easy to “one more” yourself into plowing through it all.
Auston Matthews doesn’t score 60 times (or whatever his final total is going to be this season) playing for the 2021-21 Arizona Coyotes. There are a few plays in this package where you’re reminded “Oh, right, all-time NHL seasons can’t happen without help in a team sport,” and those come off plays from Mitch Marner, and on the power play, John Tavares.
At least twice, Tavares pulls a puck from the wreckage of a scramble and makes a neat slip to Matthews waiting stationary on the back door to hammer one home. And of course, Matthews’ elite ability to slip into soft spots only has value if he’s playing with someone who can find him in the soft spots, like Marner.
Which brings us to…
Marner’s unbelievable ability to draw the attention to him – despite not being an overly lethal pure shooting threat – is nearly unparalleled in the league, much like prime Scott Gomez. He hangs on to the puck so long that defenders have to honour him, and Matthews added another element to his scoring this year, where he just goes to the net with his stick on the ice and says “go ahead and try to move me.”
His nice hands on these redirects might be replicable by other players around the league, only they don’t get to use them, because they don’t have Matthews’ size and the luxury that comes with being nearly immovable…
… Which is related to the next theme.
There are a couple goals in here where Matthews either muscles the puck through other sticks, or uses his giant frame to yoink the puck back from the opposition. He came into the league a big strong guy, but sometimes it takes players a little while to figure out how to leverage their frame, and Matthews has clearly decided to lean more into his advantage this season.
And I know you know this, but…
I don’t know that anybody will ever again dominate the NHL the way Ovechkin has with his one-time bomb. Even when goalies know it’s coming and where it’s going, they historically just can’t keep up to his fastball.
Matthews’ shot is so different in that you don’t know where it’s going, when it’s coming, or how he’s going to shoot it. His teammates have talked about his ability to keep goaltenders off-balance and know where to shoot pucks to places that make goalies uncomfortable.
There’s at least a few pucks in this roll where if they were shot by everyone else in the league like a best ball tournament, no one else gets them to go. There’s too many to pull separately, so just watch his whole damn season of scoring and enjoy. He’s unique, and with some (health) luck and longevity, will become one of the game’s best-ever goal-scorers.