Friday, March 1, 2024
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NHL Star Power Index: Auston Matthews scoring at will, David Pastrnak keeps piling on goals

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.

Auston Matthews produced a career-high 60-goal campaign in 2021-22, and that resulted in the Toronto Maple Leafs star winning the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP. It’s possible that Matthews could even outdo that season considering the rate at which he’s scoring goal thus far in 2023-24.

Entering Thursday, Matthews has racked up 39 goals throughout the 2023-24 season. The Maple Leafs star is currently on pace for 71 goals the rest of the way, so there’s potential for Matthews to have a career season when the dust settles.

That’s not surprising considering that Matthews has registered six goals over his last five games. Matthews’ best showing came in a 4-3 win against the Calgary Flames on Jan. 18 in which he tallied three goals and an assist.

Matthews registered 35 goals in 42 games with the hat trick performance. The only players in Maple Leafs history that reached the 35-goal plateau faster are Babe Dye (26 games in 1924-25), Frank Mahovlich (39 games in 1960-61), and Rick Vaive (42 games in 1983-84).

It was also Matthews’ 11th career hat trick and moved the Maple Leafs star past Vaive (10) for the fourth-most hat tricks in team history. Only Darryl Sittler (18), Dye (16), and Charlie Conacher (14) have more hat tricks than Matthews in Maple Leafs history.

What made Matthews’ performance against the Flames so important was the fact that he was able to score all three goals in less than a full 20-minute span. Matthews began his sensational night late in the opening period when he benefitted from a loose puck.

Maple Leafs forward Noah Gregor was attempting to bring the puck into the offensive line when it was blocked by the skate of Flames defenseman Nick DeSimone. Following the deflection, Gregor was able to sweep the puck to Matthews, who was making his way towards the net behind the defense. Matthews was able to corral the puck, and rip a shot past Flames goaltender Dan Vladar to cut the deficit to 2-1.

Matthews also found the back of the net early in the second period in what was perhaps his most beautiful tally on the night. At the 4:08 mark of the second period, Maple Leafs star forward William Nylander uncorked a shot that ended up being blocked in front. Nylander got the puck back, and slid a picture-perfect pass across the ice to Matthews for a one-timer. Matthews certainly didn’t miss his chance as he blasted the one-timer past Vladar.

The Maple Leafs center finished off the hat trick late in the second period. Matthews was able to deposit a backhander on the rebound off a Matthew Knies shot to give Toronto a 4-2 lead, and ultimately won the game for the Maple Leafs.

Matthews is putting the puck in the net at an absurd rate this season. If Matthews can continue to score goals at this rate, the Maple Leafs are going to be a tough out come playoff time.

Few players around the NHL have put the puck in the net at the rate that David Pastrnak has been. 

The Boston Bruins star has racked up five goals and three assists over his last four games. Pastrnak has also scored at least one goal in three of his past five games.

Pastrnak currently ranks third in the NHL in points (67) and only trails Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (82) and Tampa Bay Lightning star Nikita Kucherov (80) in that department. The Bruins winger is also tied for fourth in goals (30) behind only Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (38), Florida Panthers star Sam Reinhart (34), and Kucherov (31).

Pastrnak’s most impressive performance came on Jan. 18 in a 5-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche when he recorded a hat trick. It marked the 16th career hat trick for Pastrnak, and only Phil Esposito has more such performances (26) in team history.

The Bruins star got into the scoring column rather early against the Avalanche. Just 44 seconds into the contest, Pastrnak put a side-angle shot on net that Avalanche goaltender Alexandar Georgiev was able to stop. However, there was a rebound on the play that squeaked free, and Pastrnak scooped up the puck. Pastrnak even circled his way into the slot and ripped a snap shot past Georgiev to open the scoring.

Pastrnak found the back of the net once again at the 17:24 mark of the third period. The Bruins winger was the beneficiary of a tremendous pass from teammate Jake DeBrusk. DeBrusk ended up freeing the loose puck and skated his way into the slot, where he found a cutting Pastrnak right in front for an easy tap-in goal.

Pastrnak capped off the night with his third goal in the final minute as he scored an empty-netter. 

The Bruins star is having one of his best months of the 2023-24 season. Pastrnak has tallied 17 points (eight goals & nine assists) in 12 games thus far, and has registered multiple points in four of his last six games. Pastrnak is currently on pace for 117 points (52 goals & 65 assists) this season, and certainly is one of the key reasons why the Bruins are chasing their second consecutive Presidents’ Trophy. 

Cale Makar continues to carry the torch of being one of the top young defensemen that the NHL has to offer. 

The Colorado Avalanche blue-liner is having another stellar season. Makar currently ranks second among NHL defensemen in points (57), second in assists (46), and is tied for fourth in goals (11). He only ranks third in points and second in assists when it comes to the Avalanche.

Makar is currently on a five-game point streak and has recorded an assist in each of those contests. He registered a key assist in the Avalanche’s 7-4 win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday. 

At the 12:23 mark of the third period, the Flyers had rallied from a 5-2 deficit and made it a 5-4 game. Following a key face-off win by the Avalanche, Makar was able to gain control of the puck, and eventually let go of a shot that made its way to Flyers goaltender Samuel Ersson. Ersson was initially able to stop Makar’s shot, but forward Mikko Rantanen was able to put the loose puck past Ersson.

Makar tallied a three-point performance (one goal & two assists) in a 6-2 win against the Washington Capitals on Wednesday. In doing so, Makar has now scored the most career goals (76) in Avalanche history.

Makar is certainly in the conversation for the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman. At the moment, the Avalanche blue-liner is neck-in-neck with Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes as far as the top producers at the position.

Makar definitely has established himself as one of the league’s premier defensemen and is one of the big reasons why the Avalanche could be a force in the Stanley Cup Playoffs later this season.

Connor Ingram has come out of nowhere to have a stellar season in net for the Arizona Coyotes.

Ingram has tallied a 17-9-1 record to go along with a 2.47 goals-against-average and a .919 save percentage during the 2023-24 season. The 26-year-old has yielded two or fewer goals in four of his last five games and has been victorious in three of those contests.

Perhaps the most impressive statistic about Ingram is that he’s tied for the league lead in shutouts (5). 

In his most recent outing, Ingram stopped 25 of the 27 shots that he faced in a 5-2 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins. After Penguins star Sidney Crosby had tied the game in the second period, Ingram kept the Penguins off the score sheet over the final 23:30 of the contest.

Ingram bounced around the NHL early in his career. The Coyotes goaltender started off his career by being selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the third round of the 2016 NHL Draft. He was then traded to the Nashville Predators where he only appeared in three games before being claimed off of waivers by the Coyotes in October 2022.

It was expected that Ingram would play the backup role behind Karel Vejmelka in 2023-24, but Ingram has played himself into the starting goaltender job. If this type of success continues, Ingram can certainly be the future in the crease for a young Coyotes team.

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