Number 34 set a new standard for Leafs rookies, by scoring goal number 35.
Indeed Auston Matthews’s first period marker, the opening tally in the Leafs 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night, was a historic one. Matthews leapfrogged long-time fan favourite Wendel Clark into sole possession of the club record for most goals in a season by a first-year player. Clark established the previous mark of 34 goals in 1985-86.
It’s no coincidence that Clark and Matthews are the only first-overall draft picks in Leafs history. Both men, in their respective rookie seasons, have terrorized opponents with a relentless drive to the net and a lethal shot.
“Goal-scorers score from everywhere on everyone and they’re usually not in places you think,” Clark said to an assembled scrum of reporters during the first intermission. “The pretend goal-scorers are going high top glove all the time. If you watch Auston shoot, he’s like low, between the legs, blocker side.
He really thinks the game. More about how to get the goal than to be the pretty goal.”
The Leafs freshmen continued their re-write of the franchise record books. Matthews’s goal was also the 14th instance of the player scoring the opening goal of the game, equaling a feat first set by veteran Dave Andreychuk in 1993-94. William Nylander earned an assist on the play, extending his rookie club record point streak to a dozen games.
For good measure, Zach Hyman had a shorthanded goal in the third period – the eventual game-winner – establishing a team-high for rookies with four in that category.
Contributions weren’t limited solely to the rookies. Leo Komarov also found the back of the net for the Leafs, and Curtis McElhinney was solid in a 24-save performance for the win.
The spotlight, however, belonged to Matthews. “Just to be in the same sentence as a guy like Wendel Clark is a big honour,” he said. “A lot of credit to my linemates all season. It’s definitely pretty special.”
Clark, meanwhile, has held no reservations about his long-time benchmark being overtaken ever since watching Matthews career-launching four-goal outing in this year’s season opener.
When asked as to when he thought the 34-goal mark would be in jeopardy, Clark replied. “The second period of the first game.”
Clark of course finished as runner-up to Gary Suter in the balloting for the Calder Trophy in 1986, although he did play on a Leafs team that qualified for the playoffs.
Matthews certainly faces stiff competition for the this year’s edition of the award from the likes of Patrik Laine, Zach Werenski, and his own teammates Mitch Marner, and Nylander. Clearly his team is in a better position to achieve the latter, post-season, ambition as a result of last night’s victory.