As Ovechkin chases Gretzky, Maple Leafs’ Matthews outpacing Caps star

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As Alex Ovechkin chases down Wayne Gretzky’s record for most goals in National Hockey League history, that sound in the distance is Auston Matthews getting his offensive engine running.

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Ovechkin goes into the final couple of weeks of the 2023-24 regular season 46 goals shy of tying Gretzky’s record of 848.

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Assuming Ovechkin does pass Gretzky, we don’t imagine it would be too long afterward that Ovechkin retires. He’s going to be 39 in September and his personal pace has fallen off with 26 goals in 70 games this season. As the saying goes, he’s not going to play forever.

When Matthews scored his 60th goal on Saturday night in the Leafs’ 3-0 win in Buffalo against the Sabres, it brought him to 359 goals in 553 career games.

In that regard, Matthews’ pace is better than what Ovechkin did from 2005-12. In his first 553 NHL games in that span with the Washington Capitals, Ovechkin had 339 goals, 20 less than Matthews. 

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For that matter, Gretzky scored 481 goals in his first 553 games in the NHL. That’s nearly incomprehensible. 

Of Matthews’ goals to date, 268 have come at even-strength. Ovechkin had 224 even-strength goals through the same number of games.

Ovechkin’s pursuit of Gretzky is exhilarating now, and it’s only going to gain more traction and attention once next season starts.

All the while, Matthews will continue to move along at his eye-popping pace, and in the short term, will try to score 10 goals in the Leafs’ final nine games to reach 70 after hitting 60 for the second time.

Ovechkin’s lone 60-goal season came in 2007-08, when he scored 65. The closest he came to 60 was the following season, when he scored 56 goals.

Never mind Ovechkin, Leafs Nation should be soaking in every goal that Matthews scores.

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Once his playing days are done, we might not see anything like it again in Toronto. 

Having said that, we think we’re safe in saying that we have not yet seen Matthews’ best.

“I just don’t think he sits on it,” Leafs captain John Tavares said after the win in Buffalo, referring to Matthews’ evolution. “I don’t think he really sets limits on himself.

“The big picture, or hitting certain numbers, I don’t think it’s something he focuses on. He just wants to continue to be one of the best in the world and drive our team and make an impact on the scoresheet with the way he can play the game.

“It’s really impressive, being able to score a lot of goals. But his play in all three zones away from the puck, with the puck, it’s exceptional. He’s the total package.”

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The Leafs appear to have a substantial chance on Monday night to move to within four points of the Florida Panthers in the Atlantic Division standings.

With their visit to Scotiabank Arena, the Panthers kick off a four-game trip on a skid, having gone 2-5-1 in their previous eight games. 

The Panthers have been shut out twice in that span, and a normally lethal power play has gone cold, scoring two goals on 21 opportunities. 

This isn’t to suggest the Leafs, who had a full day off on Sunday, will just have to show up, punch the clock and register a victory. We know that the game could be a preview of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, though the Panthers have designs on passing the Boston Bruins and claiming the division title.  

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The Bruins are two points up on the Panthers, but Florida has a game in hand.

And with the Panthers’ second-round win against the Leafs in the playoffs last spring, that elimination hasn’t been completely forgotten by the Toronto players who remain. 

It will be the first game between the Leafs and Panthers since Nov. 28, when Toronto won 2-1 in a shootout at Scotiabank Arena. On Oct. 19 in Florida, the Panthers beat the Leafs 3-1. 


Not only was Ilya Samsonov’s shutout in Buffalo the first registered by a Leafs goalie in Western New York since Andrew Raycroft was in net for a 3-0 win on Nov. 9, 2007, it was the first Leafs shutout against the Sabres in nearly 10 years.

And there was an oddity about that shutout, registered by Jonathan Bernier on Oct. 28, 2014, in Toronto by a 4-0 score.

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The Sabres had just 10 shots on goal — four in each of the first two periods and two in the third — as the Leafs tied the franchise record for fewest shots allowed in one game. 

So idle was Bernier that despite letting nothing get past him, he was not one of the three stars. Those honours fell — in order from first to third — to Tyler Bozak, Phil Kessel and Morgan Rielly. Bozak and Kessel each had a goal and an assist and Rielly had two assists.

The shutout on Saturday was Samsonov’s third of the season and 13th of his NHL career.

“With Sammy, he has really built his game week after week and he seems very confident, very poised in the net,” Matthews said. “That’s when he’s at his best, so it has been great to see.”

Samsonov’s next win will be the 100th of his NHL career.


Of Sam Reinhart’s 51 goals, 27 have come during a Florida man advantage, and the 28-year-old forward is in a class by himself in that regard. Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers is next on the NHL list with 19 power-play goals, and no other player had more than 15 through games on Saturday … Matthews leads the Leafs with 15 power-play goals, followed by William Nylander with 11. Matthews’ career-high is 16, done two years ago … Tyler Bertuzzi goes into the week three games shy of 400 for his NHL career.

X: @koshtorontosun

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