Maple Leafs Commentary: Matthews, Mahovlich, Gilmour & Sittler

The Toronto Maple Leafs might be coming off of their most grueling span of games in memory. They just finished a nine-game in a thirteen-day stretch, six of the games were on the road. During that stretch, they played some of the best teams in the NHL. They also traveled over 10,000 kilometers in the process.

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Of course, there’s no way of knowing for sure if it was the most gruelling trip in a long time, but it has to rank up there. Not only did the Maple Leafs survive the trip relatively intact, but they also played what may have been their best hockey of the season during it. 

Comment One: What a Great Stretch of Games the Maple Leafs Played

After losing the first game of the stretch to the Montreal Canadiens 4-2 despite dominating the game and outshooting the Canadiens 51 to 18, they went on to post a 7-0-1 record. As part of those games, they beat the Boston Bruins, the Winnipeg Jets, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Dallas Stars. 

Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews
Toronto Maple Leafs Mitchell Marner and Auston Matthews have led the team to a great recent record (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

The team also split two games with the Florida Panthers, picking up three points in those two games. They finished off the stretch with a 3-2 win in a revenge game at home to the Canadiens.  

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What Maple Leafs’ fan would have predicted the team would be able to go 7-1-1 on such a gruelling trip. As a result of their great play, they’ve solidified their hold on second place in the Atlantic Division. They’ve also reached the 100 point plateau for just the sixth time in Maple Leafs’ history. They now have a five-point cushion over the Bruins and six over the Lightning with one more game played.  

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With all of the records that Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner have been setting lately, the Maple Leafs only need six points in their last ten games to set a new franchise record for points in a season. In addition, they’ve also qualified for their sixth consecutive postseason. The first time they have done that since before the salary cap.

Comment Two: Auston Matthews Is Almost Beyond Commentary

We’re running out of things to say about Matthews. He seems to be breaking records with almost every shift he plays. We, as Maple Leafs’ fans, are truly blessed to be watching what has to be the most dynamic player in franchise history.

In the nine-game, thirteen-day period that just ended, Matthews scored 12 goals and added seven assists for a total of 19 points. He now has an eight-goal lead on Leon Draisaitl and is nine ahead of Chris Kreider for the Rocket Richard Trophy. He needs two goals to become the league’s first 60-goal scorer since Steven Stamkos in the 2011-12 season.

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Matthews’ 51 goals in 50 games mark the first time an NHL player has scored 50 or more goals in a 50 game span in 26 years. The last player to do so was Mario Lemieux in the 1995-96 season.

Comment Three: Matthews Compares Well to Former Maple Leafs’ Greats

Matthews now has 99 points this season and sits in fourth place in NHL scoring. When he gets his next point, he will become the third player in Maple Leafs’ history to score 100 points. The other two Maple Leafs players are Doug Gilmour (127 points in 1992-93, and 111 in 1993-94) and Darryl Sittler (117 points in 1977-78 and 100 in 1975-76).

Matthews now has 43 even-strength goals this season. That’s a franchise record. Frank Mahovlich was the previous record holder with 41 even-strength goals in a single season. He accomplished that feat in the 1960-61 season.

Frank Mahovlich (THW Archives)

Only three players in the history of the NHL have scored more even-strength goals in a season. Stamkos scored 48 in the 2011-12 season; Alex Ovechkin netted 43 in the 2007-08 season; and, Pavel Pure potted 45 in the 1999-2000 season. Matthews has ten games left to score six goals to become the all-time single-season record holder in even-strength goals.

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Last but not least, Matthews has points in 16 consecutive games. That’s just two shy of the Maple Leafs’ record of 18 set by Darryl Sittler in the 1977-78 season, which was equaled by Ed Olcyk 1989-90 season.

Comment Four: Matthews Is in Line for a Number of NHL Awards This Season

We have resisted jumping on the “Matthews is the Hart favorite” bandwagon until now. There are too many players having great seasons to single out one individual player. Perennial Hart candidate Connor McDavid leads the NHL in scoring with 108 points. Jonathan Huberdeau is setting Florida Panthers’ records and leads the NHL with 77 assists. Johnny Gaudreau is having an amazing season for the Calgary Flames and leads the NHL at plus-54. Goalie Igor Shestyorkin of the New York Rangers is also in the picture.  

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

But, it appears to us that Matthews is edging ahead of the Hart competition; and, if he keeps scoring at his present rate could end up running away with the award.

What’s Ahead for the Maple Leafs?

The Maple Leafs get two days to recover before embarking on another tough stretch of nine games in fifteen days. This stretch takes them back to Florida for two more games against the Panthers and Lightning. They then wrap up the season on April 29th at home playing the Bruins.  

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The Maple Leafs will have three goals in that span. Their first goal is to secure their hold on second place and the home advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Their second goal will be to fine-tune the lineup and figure out the ultimate combinations, especially on defense. The team’s third goal will be to try and make sure Jack Campbell is healthy and at the top of his game mentally and physically ahead of what we hope will be a long playoff run. 

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]

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