The Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews gets a lot of TV time, as he should. He’s become a human highlight reel. However, there is a camera that rarely sees the 22-year-old — the penalty box cam. Matthews’ disciplined play has earned him a finalist spot for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy. Matthews has played 282 regular season games, and he’s only been penalized 46 minutes. Put that in comparison to the Leafs’ Brad Smith who got 57 penalty minutes in a single game in 1986.
Making the Matthews numbers more incredible is the fact that he has been a target since the first day he stepped on NHL ice. He draws the opposition’s best defensive players, as well as the competition’s antagonizers. Remember this is the new NHL — Matthews doesn’t have an enforcer to protect him. He has ignored the chirps, has absorbed the extra hits and shrugged off the pokes and slashes.
This season, he served just four penalties. That’s right, only eight total penalty minutes. He averaged just under 21 minutes per game and put up 80 points and a plus-19. This kind of performance is worthy of an award that goes to a player who “exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”
Matthews Keeps His Cool
“That’s just kind of how I’ve always played the game,” Matthews told NHL.com. “It’s not such a fun place to watch the game from in the penalty box. I prefer to spend my time not there. I’m not overly physical or kind of an in-your-face kind of player. I just kind of try to use my body position and try to use my stick.”
“It’s great recognition for him,” says Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe. “He certainly deserves to be in that class in the League. It’s a great feather in his cap. When you look at what goes into it, of course, the penalty minutes and the fact he plays the game with such discipline and keeps himself on the ice as often as possible. But it’s not easy to do his job, he’s a major focus for the opposition, plays a lot of minutes and to keep his head and stay cool and stay committed and focused on the task at hand is a credit to him. It’s nice to see him have the recognition.”
Matthews is joined by the Colorado Avalanche’s Nathan MacKinnon and Ryan O’Reilly of the St. Louis Blues for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy.
Just Missed the Maurice Richard Trophy
When the NHL paused the season on March 12, Matthews had 47 goals. With 12 games to go, he would’ve easily surpassed the elusive 50-goal mark. He was also just one goal behind the Boston Bruins’ David Pastrnak and Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals.
When the NHL announced it’s Return to Play plans that included ending the regular season, it also ended Matthews’ chance to win the Maurice Richard Trophy for the top goal scorer. Pastrnak and Ovechkin will split the honours.
Falling just one goal short might be difficult enough to swallow. However, it gets worse. According to the stats guys over at Sportsnet, Matthews hit the post 10 times and the crossbar three times. Yes, 13 pucks fired from Matthews’ stick were just a few centimetres off. Pastrnak hit iron eight times, and Ovechkin dinged the post three times. Pastrnak was the only one of the three who had a goal overturned. If there was a runner-up award that included goals, illegal goals and posts, Matthews would win it with 60, Pastrnak 57 and Ovechkin 51.
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Should Matthews wins the Lady Byng, he will be the first Maple Leafs player to earn the award in 17 years. Alexander Mogilny last pulled off the feat for Toronto in 2002-03. It would also be the second league award for the young superstar. Matthews was named the NHL’s Rookie of the Year, winning the Calder Memorial Trophy in 2016-17.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.