Auston Matthews can score goals.
For years, we’ve admired the art of goal scoring from Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos. Both have been lethal in the past decade when it comes to lighting the lamp. While they continue to be consistent scoring threats, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ super-star sniper is the one leading the charge in this category as one of the most dangerous goal scorers in the league.
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He’s only been in the league for four seasons, and we’re still amazed at his goal-scoring proficiency. While he’s starting to become a more complete and effective two-way player, scoring is his bread and butter. Whether you’re a Maple Leafs fan or not, you can’t deny that Matthews is continuing to emerge and solidify his presence as a premier sharp-shooter in today’s game.
Consistency and Versatility in Goal Scoring
Matthews has proven that he can keep up with the best in the business, like Ovechkin, and give him a run for his money. How does he do it? He’s consistent and versatile with his offensive presence and his shots on net. Because of this, he was the Maple Leafs’ MVP this season.
This season, Matthews was only behind Ovechkin and David Pastrnak for the league lead in goals. He had an individual expected goals total of 29.69 based on the quality of his shot attempts at all strengths. He surpassed that mark, scoring 47 and ranked third in goals per 60 rate at five-on-five (1.55) with a minimum of 50 games played.
After his four-goal NHL debut, Matthews has consistently improved and become more dangerous in the offensive zone. Here’s a look at his goals-per-game rate each year with a minimum of 50 games played. Note: *- indicates missed more than 10 games due to injuries.
|Year||Goals||Goals per Game||Rank|
In four seasons, he has shown he can score at a consistent rate. In three of four years, he’s had a goals-per-game rate over .50. He was on pace for 55 goals this season, and he would’ve hit that mark except for the NHL hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. His goals-per-game were among the best in the league, ranked in the top five for three seasons and top 10 for one. In 2017-18 and 2018-19, he would’ve been on pace to score 50 goals had he not missed over 34 games combined due to upper-body injuries. At 22, he might have had three 50-goal seasons and would have been the first player to do so since Ovechkin did it from 2013-14 to 2015-16.
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While he continues to score at a high rate, Matthews is also expanding the way he scores based on his shot selection. Here’s a table of his goals based on his shots from 2016-17 to 2019-20:
|Shot Type||Number of Shots||Goals||Shooting Percentage|
Matthews likes to use his wrist and snap shot most of the time, they account for most of his goal totals. His wrist shot is his go-to (which we’ll discuss later), but his snap shot and slap shot are also becoming weapons in his arsenal. He has only scored 10 slap shot goals in his NHL career, but 70% of those (7 goals) were scored this season. He only scored two in 2017-18 and one in 2018-19.
What’s interesting, and goes unnoticed, is the number of tip-ins that Matthews has scored; he has a great shooting percentage based on tip-ins at 28%. This shows that he isn’t afraid to go into the dirty areas to utilize his elite hand-eye coordination. While his shot is one of the best in the league, his versatility in scoring goals is what makes him a bigger threat.
Shot Becoming More Accurate
Everyone seems to be in awe of Matthews’ shot. His power and release are unlike any other. Those assets combined with his ability to be deceptive in what he does with the puck, mean it’s not going to end well for defenders or goaltenders.
We’ve seen him deke around players and use his hands in tight areas, but it’s always his shot that makes everyone’s jaw drop. No goal was more jaw-dropping than this snipe against the Columbus Blue Jackets. It’s hard not to feel the same as TSN’s Ray Ferrero:
While Matthews has all the time in the world to shoot, he manages to pick his spot quickly before getting his shot off. In the process, he drags the puck slightly, brings his hands closer to his body and changes the angle of his shot at the last second, which he’s known to do from time to time. The shot is so powerful that the puck enters and leaves the net in a flash. While this is admirable, it’s the accuracy that is most impressive. As Joonas Korpisalo is going down, Matthews gets the puck up over his shoulder and just under the crossbar.
While that is a prime example of Matthews’ powerful wrist shot, he’s starting to utilize his slap shot more, now that he’s seeing more time on his off-wing on the power play or in a key situation. Like Ovechkin, the Maple Leafs want to use more of Matthews’ strengths and we’re starting to see it.
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Like the goal against the Blue Jackets, Matthews’ accuracy should be appreciated. He is in a prime area for the puck with no one around him. As Morgan Rielly quickly gets the puck to him, Matthews is already wound up for a slap shot. He’s able to rapidly get the shot off and go bar down from just outside the top of the circle. He places the shot perfectly over the shoulder of goaltender Connor Hellebuyck who has no chance of stopping the puck.
Matthews’ power and accuracy keep getting better and this season was a prime example of that. Like Ovechkin and Stamkos, it’s becoming hard for goaltenders to try and stop anything that comes off Matthews’ stick.
Utilizing All Areas of the Ice
One skill that’s become a major factor in Matthews’ success as a goal scorer is his ability to use the whole ice in the offensive zone.
Here are goal maps from 2016 and 2019 from IcyData.hockey. The goal map from 2019 shows a significant difference from Matthews’ percentage and surface area used in 2016.
Matthews scored 57% of goals from outside of the crease in 2016. That number dropped to 31% and the percentages increased to other areas on the ice by 2019. We can see a 6% increase of goals scored in front of the net and an 8% increase from the outside area of the circles. Even the heat map shows that Matthews’ goals are expanding across the surface instead of being focused in the middle of the ice.
This is making him hard to contain, as he isn’t just focused on scoring from a certain area. He’s constantly reading the open areas and he’s becoming successful at capitalizing on those opportunities.
Matthews has already become an elite scorer. While Ovechkin and Stamkos have been the face of goal scoring in the NHL for over 10 years, Matthews has already earned his spot to be alongside some of the other best snipers in the league. His goal-scoring proficiency, versatility in his shot and utilizing all areas of the ice make him more of a threat than he was before.