It’s probably a bit of an understatement to say that this year has created an extremely unique situation for the NHL playoffs. We’ll be watching hockey in the summer, see an extra round in the playoffs, see an extra eight teams get into the playoffs, as well as the fact that a playoff team that gets eliminated in the playoffs will walk away with Alexis Lafreniere.
But, this year also creates another unique situation for hockey, particularly for Auston Matthews (and additionally Alex Ovechkin, but this is a Leafs blog, so that part doesn’t matter).
Matthews may have an opportunity to break the NHL record for goals in a single postseason. Initially it sounds far-fetched, but when you realize the record is 19 goals, it’s not out of the question.
I first realized this when I was putting together my NHL 20 simulation of the playoffs, and Matthews finished the playoffs with 15 goals, while the Leafs had only made it to the conference finals. In that scenario, Matthews would only need five goals if he had made it to the finals to break the record, which isn’t unrealistic considering that in two of the three playoff series’ he’s played to date, he’s scored four goals in six games, and five in seven.
Of course, there are a few things that would need to go his way. Not unrealistic things, but if one doesn’t happen, his chances are screwed. That’s how hard this still is.
For starters, the Leafs would need to go to the Cup final. Of the 21 players who’ve scored 15 or more goals in a playoff season, only Cam Neely’s 16 goals in 1990-91 came without making the Cup final, so to help Matthews chances, they’d need to win it. While winning would certainly help because that means more wins, so more goals, so more Matthews’ goals, it’s not necessary because those aforementioned great playoff series he’s had came in losing series’.
Secondly, those series need to go deep. Like, we’d need at least two or three series to go the distance, and all of them to go six or seven days. The key to getting this record is that Matthews gets as many games as possible to get as many opportunities as possible to score goals. For example, if two of the four seven game series’ go to seven, the other two go to six, and the qualifying round goes to four, that gives Matthews 30 games.
At that point, 20 goals in 30 games is far from unreasonable. In fact, that’s almost exactly his pace from this season. If you take Matthews goals per game rate this season and put it at a 30 game pace, he’d score 20.14 goals. This also assumes that he’s healthy the whole time, because that’d be important.
Finally, he needs to not have any slumps. That’s a big one. One series where he only gets a couple goals, and he’d need a hot streak of seven or eight goals in another series to make up for it. Thankfully, Matthews was pretty good at not falling into slumps this season. Over the course of 70 games, Matthews only had three instances of a slump of at least three games, with only one of those going longer than three games (at five games).
Matthews has been pretty consistent all season (more consistent than Pastrnak and Ovechkin, the two goal scorers ahead of him), so it shouldn’t be as difficult as it sounds.
Now, you might be saying that if Matthews breaks the record, it shouldn’t be taken legitimately because of how many games they played. My counterpoint is that the records were set in the 80’s when players scored on glorified shooter tutors, so the record shouldn’t be taken legitimately to begin with.
So, there are a few things that would need to go Matthews way, and if only one of them doesn’t his chances are probably doomed. But that should probably just go to show how hard it is to break a record like this. But, it’s not a stretch to say those things can go Matthews way, based on his play this season, and his career.
The only factor that could hinder his play is how the long term effects of COVID-19 impacts his play, as we still have no idea how it affects athletes. Matthews had a poor performance in his exhibition game, and while it’s more likely that that was just rust, the concern is still there. I’m not expecting it to cause problems since he was asymptomatic.
Regardless, these weird times have led for a rare opportunity for Matthews to make history, so long as the Leafs go on a deep Cup run. So it’s probably not happening.