It is not a novel idea to suggest that Auston Matthews is good at scoring goals. Putting the puck in the back of the net has always been his primary function on the ice, and he excels at it.
Whether it’s his famously deceptive shot, his excellent hand-eye co-ordination, or his knack for finding uninhabited pockets in the offensive zone, Matthews has the tools to light the lamp with astounding regularity. All of this ground is well-tread and need not be gone over once again. Even the 22-year-old’s seven goals in his first seven games this year don’t feel like they’re teaching us anything new. Matthews is good at this, we get it.
However, the Toronto Maple Leafs sniper’s fast start to 2019-2020 isn’t exactly just more of the same. It’s the continuation of a trend that has Matthews likely to eclipse his career high of 40 goals — perhaps by a significant margin. That trend is just about as simple as they come: Matthews is shooting significantly more. This season his 4.57 shots per game rank second in the NHL behind Cam Atkinson. This is coming off a postseason where he peppered the Boston Bruins for precisely 4.57 shots per contest in the Maple Leafs’ losing effort.
While the symmetry there is fun, realistically we’re talking about a sample of 14 games, hardly something worth putting too much stock into. However, over the course of the 2018-2019 season Matthews slowly ramped up his shot taking. If we divide Matthews’ shots per game by year rather than season, since 2017 they look like this:
To believe these numbers are important you need to believe two things. The first is that quantity in and of itself is valuable, and the Maple Leafs benefit whenever Matthews shoots the puck. By this point we know his shot is special, and more often than not Toronto has a better chance to score when he fires away, even if he’s alongside talented linemates like William Nylander and Andreas Johnsson. Matthews is also locked into the Maple Leafs’ first-unit power play — something that hasn’t always been true for the young centre — which will give him good looks, especially now that he’s been moved to the right side to maximize his budding one-timer.
In order to believe Matthews’ rising shot totals foreshadow a career-best goal total, you also need to believe they’re sustainable. That’s a little more difficult to prove offhand, however one of the best indicators that Matthews is going to continue to get his shots is that he continues to have a greater share of the puck.
Until recently, the centre’s possession numbers have never really stood out. They haven’t been dreadful, but he hasn’t registered as a true driver of play — which is somewhat surprising given his skill set. This season he’s been an absolute monster in that area with a Corsi of 65.4 percent, undoubtedly helped by Nylander on his right, who’s been a possession beast for a long time. That number comes from a tiny seven-game sample, but if we use the same calendar year setup as before, the numbers are encouraging for Matthews.
Matthews is shooting more, he’s in a better position to score on the power play, and his line is threatening more at even strength, which should give him an excellent chance of topping his career-best goal total of 40. Health remains a concern as the young centre has missed 34 games in the last two seasons, but as long as he stays upright he should comfortably clear the bar he set in his rookie season.
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