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Matthews authoring an absurd goal-scoring season

Auston Matthews Auston Matthews - The Canadian Press

Just 55 goals shy of Wayne Gretzky’s all-time record, it seems it won’t be long before Washington Capitals forward Alexander Ovechkin will be crowned the greatest goal scorer in National Hockey League history.

A combination of sustained dominance and longevity, Ovechkin’s track record of production will soon be second to none. The question is, for how long?

It’s taken decades for someone to take a serious run at The Great One’s goal record, but it may not take that long for Ovechkin to have his throne challenged. That challenger is the 26-year-old American sniper playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs – a challenger currently stringing together one of the most impressive goal-scoring seasons we have ever seen.

There isn’t enough hyperbole in the world to emphasize how absurd Matthews’ 54-goal season (in just 61 games) has been. If he can sustain this scoring pace over a full 82 games, we could see Matthews finish with 73 goals across a single season. Not only would that be a decisive career high for a player who kissed the 60 mark just two seasons ago, it would be the highest single-season number from any player since Buffalo’s Alex Mogilny and Anaheim’s Teemu Selanne scored 76 goals apiece in the 1992-93 season.

That’s 31 years ago.

The reality for Matthews is that, assuming he stays healthy and on reasonably competitive teams, the chase of Ovechkin is definitively on. If Matthews fails to score for the rest of the season, he will trail Ovechkin by 18 goals over their first eight seasons. If you assume the pro-rated pace can be sustained and Matthews could score as many as 73 goals this season, the gap between the two players does not exist.

Let’s go one step further and adjust for usage. Remember, Ovechkin’s unrelenting scoring early in his career was tied to heavy usage from Bruce Boudreau and the Capitals coaching staff – Ovechkin reliably played more than 21 minutes a night seemingly forever. Matthews, meanwhile, has averaged less than 20 minutes a game over the course of his career:

It’s hard to call this season a breakout for Matthews considering the track record, but a ho-hum approach to what we are witnessing in Toronto also seems inappropriate.

Matthews is scoring an absolutely staggering 2.5 goals for every 60 minutes played (all situations) this season. In the modern era of hockey (2007-24), there simply is no parallel for Matthews – be it from Ovechkin or any other elite attacker we have seen come through the league over this 17-year period.

One of the things Matthews is marginally benefiting from is the heightened scoring environment, which has entrenched itself over the last few seasons. That’s what has made Ovechkin’s accomplishments so noteworthy – he was able to post these gaudy totals in a much-lower scoring era, and the daylight between him and the rest of the league’s attackers was significant.

But that’s the case for Matthews this season as well. The closest thing in recent history we’ve seen to this season was David Pastrnak’s 2022-23 run, and even that feels pale in comparison:

It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the other – and quite frankly scary – parallel between Matthews and early-career Ovechkin, and that’s the lack of postseason success. How much of that you lay at the feet of Matthews is entirely up to you, but if the Capitals proved to us anything during their Stanley Cup drought, it’s that having such a lethal scorer in your lineup on an every-year basis is a colossal advantage.

We will see if the Maple Leafs and Matthews can break through this season. As for the Hart Memorial Trophy? You can probably start engraving Matthews’ name on there for a second time.

Data via Natural Stat Trick,, Evolving Hockey, Hockey Reference