Wednesday, January 19, 2022

NHL Star Power Index: Auston Matthews pacing red-hot Maple Leafs, Max Pacioretty back and thriving

Welcome to the NHL Star Power Index: A weekly gauge of the players who are controlling substantial buzz around the league. When a player is included on this list it may not be a good thing — it means that they are capturing a large amount of the hockey world’s attention.

These players are in no particular order when it comes to the amount of buzz that they’re creating. We’ll revisit the Star Power Index every week throughout the regular season.

The Maple Leafs have been one of the hottest teams in the NHL as of late and Auston Matthews may be the biggest reason why.

It wasn’t exactly a banner start for the Maple Leafs as they dropped five of their first seven games. Matthews was also recovering from a wrist injury and missed the first three games of the year. 

However, since that point, everything has changed for Toronto. 

The Maple Leafs have won 18 of their last 23 games while Matthews has led the charge for a team that currently has the most points in the NHL. Matthews leads the Maple Leafs with 33 points (20 goals and 13 assists) and has been one of the most dangerous players in the entire league.

During the month of December, Matthews has been absolutely on fire with 10 goals and four assists in seven games. Most recently, Matthews turned in a two-goal performance against the Edmonton Oilers. His offensive prowess was on full display.

Matthews has scored at least one goal in six of his last seven games. In addition, the American-born star has scored at least two goals in three of those contests during this stretch.

It’s phenomenal to see Matthews playing at such an elite level in recent weeks. The Maple Leafs are going to need Matthews to keep playing at such a high level throughout the regular season and beyond. After all, one of the biggest issues for Toronto in recent years has been showing up when the postseason rolls around. However, this may be the most talented team that the Maple Leafs have ever had over the past 10-15 years.

The hockey world will also get a chance to watch Matthews’ magic on the global stage when he competes for Team USA in the Winter Olympics in February.

There hasn’t been a team that has been more snake-bitten when it comes to injuries this season than the Vegas Golden Knights.

The Golden Knights have lost forwards Mark Stone, William Karlsson and Max Pacioretty for significant periods of time this season. However, Pacioretty has returned to the lineup after missing over a month due to a foot fracture.

In his nine games since returning, Pacioretty has registered 16 points — and that includes at least one point in every game. The star winger has also scored at least one goal in each of his last seven games and the Golden Knights’ offense has really thrived since Pacioretty’s return.

His star power was on full display in Vegas’ dominating 4-1 win over the Boston Bruins on Tuesday. Pacioretty registered a pair of goals in that contest, including one where he got completely behind the defense and beat Bruins netminder Jeremy Swayman off a beautiful cross-ice pass from Chandler Stephenson.

Pacioretty’s return is huge for the Golden Knights, who have managed to stay in the Pacific Division race despite losing so much talent due to injury. Obviously, Pacioretty’s goal-scoring ability is impressive no matter the situation, but his return is a huge asset in the special teams department. Since returning to the lineup, Pacioretty already has three power-play goals, which is sensational considering he’s only played in 11 total games on the season.

With the Golden Knights having Stone, Karlsson, and now Pacioretty back in the lineup, this team should be able to live up to the Stanley Cup contender billing that many forecasted for them prior to the season.

The Florida Panthers have blossomed into one of the most talented teams in the NHL and a lot of that is thanks to Jonathan Huberdeau. Huberdeau has led the Panthers in points in each of the past two seasons and is on a trajectory to do it again. Through 25 games, the Panthers star center has paced the team to the tune of 32 points (10 goals and 22 assists) and that production has been more necessary than it’s ever been.

Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov has been out of the lineup due to a knee injury. With Barkov off the ice for nearly a month, Huberdeau has forced to pick up the slack and boy did he ever deliver.

In six games during the month of December, Huberdeau has registered at least a point in all but one of those contests. The veteran center also has nine points (three goals and six assists) during that stretch.

There’s very few players that are as gifted around the net as Huberdeau. Once he gets into those tight areas, his playmaking skills are on full display when it comes to setting up his teammates.  

It’s certainly worth noting that Huberdeau’s line, which also includes Sam Reinhart and Sam Bennett, has accounted for 28 of the team’s 102 goals this season. Those 102 goals are good for third-best in the league.

Huberdeau currently ranks 10th in the league in assists and he’s on pace for 64 assists this season, which would be a career-high. If the Panthers forward keeps up these kinds of numbers, it’s hard to imagine this team not making a deep playoff run this spring.

The Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t exactly been an offensive juggernaut this season. For that reason, this is a team that has relies on their star goaltender in Tristan Jarry quite a bit.

Jarry currently ranks second in the NHL in terms of goals-against-average (1.93) and has really stood on his head in recent weeks. The Penguins netminder has surrendered two goals or less in 13 of his last 16 games. Most recently, Jarry stopped 28 of the 30 shots that he faced in a 5-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens. It also marked his eighth victory in his last 10 starts.

The Penguins have been able to stay in the Metropolitan Division race despite not having Evgeni Malkin at any point this season thus far. In addition, the Penguins have also seen captain Sidney Crosby miss significant time and now fellow forward Jake Guentzel is week-to-week with an upper-body injury.

Jarry is going to need to continue to play at an elite level if the Penguins want to have a chance of making the playoffs this season. The Penguins goaltender has a chance to extend his impressive streak of play with the team’s next three games being against the New Jersey Devils (twice) and the Buffalo Sabres.

It’s safe to say that the Edmonton Oilers have the most dynamic duo across the league in Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. However, as surprising as it may be, Draisaitl actually leads the NHL in goals (23), which is seven more than his superstar teammate.

Draisaitl is about as automatic as they come when he’s hovering around the net. The Oilers star has an absolute cannon of a shot and has fooled countless goaltenders from the face-off circle on the season. He has nine multi-goal games and six multi-assist games this season. The 26-year old has been easily the most productive player in the NHL throughout the first quarter of the season.

Obviously, it definitely doesn’t hurt to play on a line with McDavid, who is cementing his status as one of the most dynamic goal scorers in the sport. However, Draisaitl is tied for the league lead in points (45) and it’s fair to say that he’s outperformed McDavid from an offensive standpoint.

Right now, Draisaitl is on pace to score 70 goals during the 2021-22 season, which would shatter his career-high. The Oilers star had 50 goals during the 2018-19 season when he played a full 82 games. If Draisaitl keeps up this torrid pace, there’s certainly no reason why he couldn’t set a new career best in goals.

Related articles

Comments

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Share article

Latest articles

Newsletter

Subscribe to stay updated.