“I didn’t play very well tonight,” said Auston Matthews, his eyes dead with disappointment as he faced a scrum of reporters. “I don’t really like a lot of plays I made. I was turning the puck over.”
That comment came after Matthews may or may not have tied Monday night’s game with a perfectly placed wrist shot above the shoulder of Coyotes netminder Antti Raanta, called back on a goalie interference challenge after Zach Hyman’s stick jabbed Raanta a few seconds before the goal. That comment came after Matthews shook off the frustration and rung the crossbar as the Toronto Maple Leafs again pressed for an equalizer. That comment came after Matthews returned from a four-game injury layoff two days earlier to snipe two goals on the Montreal Canadiens. He was still as noticeable as any Leaf forward on the ice Monday night, but he seemed disgusted with his play.
That’s the standard Auston Matthews has set for himself after 100 games in the NHL, however. Merely good or dangerous isn’t enough for him. He expects to be a difference maker every night. While Matthews at 90 percent health, or whatever he is at the moment as he recovers from an upper-body injury, is still better than most players, he’s nowhere near where he wants to be. Coach Mike Babcock feels the same.
“With the two goals last game, you think he’s back – he wasn’t at all,” Babcock told reporters Monday morning before Matthews’ 100th game. “We need to get him back and going and skating and playing without the puck like he can, being the dominating force like he can. Obviously, he’s had a real nice 99 games or whatever he’s had. We just expect him to get better and better. One thing about leadership is you’ve got to do it right every day. It’s not what you say, it’s what you do, and, so, he knows that and understands that. He’s got to keep improving, but he wants to, so it shouldn’t be an issue.”
When you look at what Matthews, 20, has accomplished relative to other players through 100 games, it’s understandable why he and the Leafs expect so much of him. As The Athletic’s Jonas Siegel reports, “Only six players in the past 30 years have scored more goals in their first 100 games than Matthews: Teemu Selanne (84), Eric Lindros (67), Pavel Bure (64), Alex Ovechkin (64), Rob Brown (61) and Joe Nieuwendyk (59).” Siegel adds that Matthews ranks third among all players in even-strength goals in games 1 to 100 over the past 30 years.
Matthews’ numbers pop even more when we factor in era, though. Take that group of six players ahead of Matthews. Each player logged his first 100 games across two seasons, with Nieuwendyk the exception, doing it across three seasons. If we apply their totals from each of their seasons to hockey-reference.com’s era adjustments for stats converting each player’s goals to one equal scoring standard, here’s what the list would look like:
MOST ADJUSTED GOALS IN FIRST 100 GAMES SINCE 1987
Teemu Selanne: 69.3
Alex Ovechkin: 64.5
Pavel Bure: 54.5
Auston Matthews: 54.3
Eric Lindros: 53.9
Rob Brown: 51.0
Joe Nieuwendyk: 49.5
Matthews’ 40-goal rookie campaign adjusts to 44, and his 12 goals so far this season actually adjust down to 10, with league-wide scoring currently higher than hockey-reference.com’s all-time baseline. It’s a just-for-fun calculation, but hockey-ref takes its era adjustments seriously. They’re meticulously calculated. It thus carries weight if we say that, relative to era, Matthews is one of the four best goal scorers through 100 games over the past 30 years.
In case you’re wondering: Wayne Gretzky had 63 goals in his first 100 games, which adjust to 52.2. His points are of course light years ahead of what Matthews had done through 100, but it’s remarkable just how dominant of a goal-scoring force Matthews has been so far in his career.