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Auston Matthews has forced himself into the greatest-player-in-the-world conversation

October 10, 2018 10:03 PM
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Auston Matthews is on pace for 143.5 goals this season, but if anybody offers a wager, take the under. John Tavares is on pace for 123, but the same rule applies. The last time two teammates scored at least six goals in their first four games one of them was named Wayne Gretzky, and the other merely reached the Hall of Fame. It’s a good start.

Look, the Toronto Maple Leafs will cool off, because this is hockey. Right now pucks are bouncing off skates or rattling off sticks or being zipped into the top corner like it’s the most unnaturally natural thing in the world. Matthews and Tavares scored twice each in the Leafs’s 7-4 dusting of Dallas on Tuesday night, Toronto’s second-straight seven-goal game, and Matthews has seven goals and three assists in four games. And TSN’s Ray Ferraro, who had a rinkside seat as hockey’s premier colour analyst, saw something that many who have examined both Connor McDavid and Matthews up close have quietly echoed.

“The game has rolled over from Crosby and Ovechkin to the evolution of McDavid and Matthews,” says Ferraro, whose own 408-goal career bridged the Gretzky era, and the prime of Mario Lemieux. “We were told by all the people that do all the scouting that generationally these players are just different, and special. And then of course, the word ‘generational’ gets thrown around to all these other people where it doesn’t belong. But McDavid and Matthews are everything that people told us about before we saw them play every game.”

“What I find amazing is, out of training camps there’s always hyperbole about how this guy looks great and this year, it was about how Matthews’s skating was at another level. And I can’t believe how, when he skates, how powerful he is. He skated away from a couple of guys last night and he’s a different skater — like, McDavid is light on his feet, and he’s a lightning bolt. With him, I can’t believe how fast he skates and how agile he is. And Matthews, it’s like he just chews up the ice. He’s just so powerful. He’s at a level that other people just physically can’t compete with.

“Now, they’re not going to score these goals all season long, and (Matthews is) really hot right now. Like, one shot goes in off a guy’s foot last night. But I went to the game last night, and I fully expected him to score. And sure enough, he got a pass and boom, it’s in the net.”

In some ways, Matthews hasn’t been great. The Leafs have been outscored 7-5 at 5-on-5 with the 21-year-old on the ice, and have been outshot and attempted. Without holdout winger William Nylander, there have been holes.

Of course, with winger Kasperi Kapanen replacing Tyler Ennis on his wing, Matthews’ possession numbers have soared — from 43 per cent to 52.3 per cent, though in limited minutes — and goals for and against have followed suit. Matthews was already one of the two greatest 5-on-5 scorers in hockey, and is now a trigger on Toronto’s flame-thrower of a power play. He’s commanding. It’s a show.

“I think (Buffalo’s No. 1 pick, defenceman) Rasmus Dahlin will join that (McDavid-Matthews) group,” Ferraro says. “I think he’s just an astounding player, and he’s 18, so there’ll be bumps and ups and downs and things. But … I think generational means that we’re talking about people that do things other people can’t do. And really, to me, these are the two of them, right now.”


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