As far as NHL news, December 8th was a highlight for many fans dying for an answer to the gold-plated question: When the heck is the NHL coming back!?
Despite nothing being officially announced, we got a pretty big hint as to when that magical day will be.
From an NHL team exec this monrning, FWIW: "NHL is season is starting Jan 13th. Confirmed last night. We are going to be playing 56 games."— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) December 8, 2020
You may have told a friend, a family member and proceed to throw your hands up in the air in scream. I, on the other hand, decided to tweet this at Auston Matthews.
I’m going to be honest here. That tweet was 100% adrenaline-influenced. However, it’s a question I’ve had on my mind a lot. It’s been so frustrating to see Matthews’ stat line from the 2019-20 season and notice the 47 in the goals column when he was well on his way to hitting the 50-goal mark; a number that hasn’t been seen since Dave Andreychuk’s 53 over 25 years ago.
Now we look ahead to the upcoming campaign. 50 goals in an 82-game season isn’t as easy as it use to be unless your name is Alex Ovechkin or you play on Connor McDavid’s wing. Trying to accomplish it in 26 fewer games adds another layer of difficulty.
Even trying to consider Matthews for this feat seemed out of the question at first. That was until I looked at his first 56 games last year and noticed he scored 40 goals and added 28 assists. If we look at pacing, that’s 0.71 goals/game and a 58-goal pace over 82 games.
Other dimensions to consider when looking at Matthews’ production include:
- Ten of those games were multi-goal nights including his hat-trick against the New Jersey Devils
- 30 of the 40 goals were at 5v5
- Mitch Marner helped Matthews out the most with 8 primary assists followed by William Nylander with 6 (via Natural Stat Trick)/
The 0.71 pace Matthews had in those first 56 games is what Ovechkin ended up finishing the season with ahead of the pause. In fact, it was the second highest at the time with Ovechkin at 0.74 (*bows down*) and David Pastrnak third at 0.67.
By the pause in March, Matthews with 0.67 goals/game - currently holding the record for 10th highest goals/game in a single season amongst active NHL players - below both Ovechkin (0.71) and David Pastrnak (0.69 - 8th highest).
Scoring 50 goals in 56 games would require Matthews to pot in 0.89 goals/game. That would obliterate Ovechkin’s all-time scoring pace of 0.79 after scoring 65 goals back in 2008. For more context, Wayne Gretzky had a goals per game of 0.89 after having a down season of 71 goals in 80 games with the Edmonton Oilers in 1983.
As wicked of a scorer Matthews has made himself to be, those are numbers that haven’t been reached in decades. The Rocket Richard could be in reach with Pastrnak not expected to start the season which would be a decent consolation prize considering a Leaf hasn’t the trophy in, well, ever.
The only thing that keeps the hope alive is Matthews’ inkling for multi-goal games. Could that be enough to get him close to that number? Who knows. But, in a year where every team result is going to be overanalyzed to death, why not have an individualistic endeavour to keep things interesting.
Acknowledgements: Goal stats from nhl.com and quanthockey.com
How many goals will Auston Matthews score in a 56-game season?