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TimeOct 18, 2016

Auston Matthews Incredible Debut

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Photo: Steven Kingsman/Icon Sportswire

Auston Matthews turned the hockey world upside down with the most prolific goal scoring debut in modern NHL history. Only 4 other players since the 1943-1944 season have scored at least 3 goals in an NHL debut. His follow-up game attracted a ton of attention, but unfortunately for the leafs faithful he was not able to duplicate his opening night heroics in game two vs Boston on home ice. In light of Matthews exceptional performance, here are a few notables:

Matthews was the top contributing Leaf in game one vs Ottawa and was responsible for a whopping 27.4% of Toronto’s total play-by-play contribution. Matthew’s game two vs the Bruins was a more human 8.9% of total team performance, ranking third among Toronto forwards.

Connor McDavid was the 2015/16 leader among NHL forwards as a percentage of his team’s average per game contribution. He contributed 15.6% to the Oilers average per game contribution.

Note, if each of 18 skaters were to contribute equally each player would be responsible for 5.6% of a team’s total contribution.

The Anatomy of a Goal

Four goals in a game is priceless regardless how they were scored, but the anatomy of a goal(s) can help predict the likelihood of future goals being scored. If Matthews four goals were mostly his doing, it would not be unreasonable to expect a similar pace of scoring going forward.

Each of Matthews goals can be viewed courtesy of NYTIMES.COM.

Goal one was the result of a net front scramble where Matthews is focused and ready for a quick pass from behind the net by Zach Hyman. Matthew’s showed good awareness and ability to stay available but many if not most players are capable of this type of goal.

Goal two was a glimpse of Matthews skill as he pulled through Mike Hoffman’s feet in the neutral zone then showcased his size and strength by leaning forward and shedding a hit by Hoffman, an underrated skill. He then used “Datsykian” like puck hound skills to stick-lift and steal the puck from a cooperative Karlsson. Matthews then had the awareness, with a quick look to the middle, to identify the passing lane was closed and recognize a sliding D was quickly taking away his shooting lane. His made a very quick decision to shoot five hole from a very tough angle, like he knew it was open the whole time.

Goal three was a great play (maybe a bit lucky) by Morgan Riley to drive wide and center the puck. Mathews showed shades of Brett Hull as he slowed his skating to find an open spot in the slot, instead of driving into traffic in the blue paint. When the puck slipped through Nylander out to Mathews, he wasted no time in putting it through Dion Phaneuf and into the open net before Anderson could get across.

Goal four was a classic two-on-one conceded by the Ottawa forwards who failed to cover for defenseman Cody Ceci, who had joined the Rush (don’t shoot wide when a D man joins!). Matthews does a great job of giving up the puck to William Nylander then driving by Chris Wideman’s body to open up the passing lane. Nylander makes a perfect sauce pass over Wideman’s stick that Matthews one times over Anderson's outstretched pad. Not an all-world goal but rest assured many players either fail to drive the net hard or bury that shot into the goalies pad.

Overall, three of the goals highlight Matthews ability to get open along with great set-ups by team mates while the second goal showcased some exceptional awareness, quick decision making and elite execution. Not many players score goals like his second but we must also recognize Ottawa made some glaring miscues on all four of Matthews goals.

The Verdict

Matthew’s clearly has exceptional skills and will be able to manufacture some goals entirely on his own, particularly when the opposition provides the opportunity. He also appears to have a gift for getting available but he will require his young skilled team mates to continue to find him in those quiet spots, especially if his two goal per game pace is to continue. One things for sure, it will be difficult to sneak up on teams after that launch.


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