Roughly a third of the way into the NHL’s shortened season, Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews has captured the imagination of hockey fans far and wide, while at the same time leaving goaltenders across the league’s newly formed North Division shaking their collective heads.
Now, that is not a new revelation because the sharp shooting center has been a goal scoring machine since he entered the National Hockey League in 2016 and went on to win the Calder Trophy as the top rookie after scoring 40 goals.
The 23-year-old Matthews followed his rookie season in the league by scoring 34, 37 and 47 goals in each of the last three years, and he was well on his way to securing his first career 50-goal campaign last season before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Entering Saturday night’s tilt against the Edmonton Oilers, Matthews has netted 18 goals in 20 games, including a recent stretch in which he scored seven goals in five games, and another hot streak that saw him net a goal in eight consecutive contests.
The American’s exploits are making some around the league discuss the possibility of whether or not Matthews can crack the 50-goal plateau during this 56-game season.
Some are even debating if he can join the extremely exclusive 50-in-50 club, by scoring 50 goals in 50 games.
Ninety-one NHLers have scored 50 goals in a season, but only five players in league history have ever pulled off 50 in 50.
Montreal Canadiens superstar Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard was the first player to achieve the feat when he scored 50 goals in 50 games during the 1944-45 season, netting goal No. 50 against Boston Bruins goalie Harvey Bennett on March 18, 1945 — the final game of the regular season.
It took another 36 years for hockey fans to see the next 50 in 50 after New York Islanders sniper Mike Bossy turned the trick during the 1980-81 season while leading his club to its second of four consecutive Stanley Cup championships.
Wayne Gretzky did it three times while starring for the Edmonton Oilers in the early 1980’s.
‘The Great One’ scored 50 goals in a record 39 games during the 1981-82 season, he potted 50 in 42 in 1983-84, and followed that up with 50 tallies in 49 games in 1984-85.
Mario Lemieux joined the 50 in 50 club in 1988-89 when the Pittsburgh Penguins star recorded 50 goals in 46 contests, and Brett Hull did it in back-to-back campaigns with the St. Louis Blues when he went 50-in-49 in 1990-91 and 50-in-50 in ’91-92.
Jari Kurri, Alexander Mogilny, Lemieux (twice) and Cam Neely are also a part of the NHL’s unofficial 50 in 50 club, having scored 50 times in their first 50 games.
However, the NHL defines the feat as scoring 50 goals in their team’s first 50 games, not the player’s first 50.
Alexander Ovechkin has never pulled it off, neither did Gordie Howe, Jaromir Jagr, Marcel Dionne, Phil Esposito or Mike Gartner — all players with more than 700 career goals.
The Maple Leafs have 35 more games on their schedule, which means Matthews would have to score 32 goals to reach the 50-goal mark for the first time in his career.
For Matthews to hit the magical 50 in 50 number, he’d have to continue his remarkable goal scoring run and tickle the twine 32 times in the next 29 games.
If he were to miss any games due to injury (knock on wood), Matthews’ chances of becoming the first player in 29 years to achieve the feat would plummet.
Other top scorers this season, including Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, Montreal’s Tyler Toffoli, and Vancouver’s Brock Boeser, would have to go on a goal scoring tear that we haven’t seen since the 1980’s or early 90’s to get to 50 in 50.
So, will Matthews join the 50 in 50 club, or even get to 50 goals this year? Probably not.
Even though he plays for an offensively stout team that resides in the NHL’s highest scoring division, and has the luxury of only having to scout a handful of goalies as opposed to more than two dozen, Matthews will have to put together a few more incredible scoring streaks to even have a chance of attaining one of the league’s most elusive accomplishments.
I think that we can bank on one thing, and that is no matter how many more goals Matthews scores this season, it’s going to be fun to watch.
Rick Zamperin is the assistant program, news and senior sports director at Global News Radio 900 CHML.