Puck Lists: 8 reasons not to worry about the Auston Matthews slump

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TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 11: Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Air Canada Centre on November 11, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Flyers 6-3. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON – NOVEMBER 11: Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Air Canada Centre on November 11, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Flyers 6-3. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Have you heard the bad news?

Auston Matthews hasn’t scored since Oct. 25. Everyone is extremely concerned about what that means for the Toronto Maple Leafs both now and in the future.

Because if Matthews isn’t producing the Leafs aren’t winning a whole lot this year. Plain and simple, he’s a big key to their success for next 15 years or so, and to get off on the wrong foot here may not portend good things.

Of course, the Leafs themselves don’t really see this as a big deal. Would they like him to score more? Of course. Are they concerned that he’s never going to score again? Obviously not. Mike Babcock said earlier this week that they’re trying to ease him into the NHL game over the next few months, and that if he’s not a more dominant force by mid-January or so, then that’s another issue entirely.

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But here’s the thing that people aren’t talking about enough: Matthews has still been pretty damn good for the Leafs even without scoring a lot, and that’s not something too many people would have turned their noses up at, say, last year.

Getting Matthews in the fold seems to have shifted some expectations-related paradigms in Toronto, and I would argue that it’s an unfair situation for the kid to be expected to produce in a spot where not a lot of teen rookies produce to begin with. Is he a super-talent? Yes. Does that mean he shouldn’t be expected to hit a rough patch? Nah.

So with that in mind, here’s some stuff to put you at ease about how things have gone for Toronto’s savior so far.

8. It’s only 10 games

Honestly, it’s really easy to go several games without scoring in the NHL. Just last season, Connor McDavid had a seven-game goalless streak. Honestly, it happens. It could stretch to 15 games and I wouldn’t be too worried about it. Okay, that might be pushing it, but honestly this isn’t some sort of calamitous issue.

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Guys like Steven Stamkos and Sidney Crosby have had long fallow stretches as well. Even after they had been in the league for years. It quite literally happens to the best of us, except for Alex Ovechkin. But that guy’s a freak.

7. He’s barely 19

It’s really important to keep this in mind too. Matthews turned 19 in mid-September, and while he played in the Swiss league last year, it’s not the NHL. There’s no other league in the world that’s even close to this good, and being a center, let alone a center with a lot of on-ice responsibility, isn’t easy to pull off for 22-year-old rookies.

Matthews has the talent level to get him into the league at this age but things don’t always come naturally to you when you move up a level. Junior A to college or major junior is an adjustment. College or junior to the AHL is an adjustment. AHL to NHL is an adjustment. So yes, while Matthews came out gangbusters and then sputtered, that kind of thing can be expected.

6. He’s also playing with rookies

Let’s not also discount that his linemates this year have been William Nylander and Zach Hyman. These are two talented players, but he doesn’t exactly have someone with lots of NHL experience to shepherd him through tough shifts.

Babcock has thrown his franchise center directly into the fire, so maybe you say this kind of struggling is a little expected. It feels, though, like maybe this is just a chance for Matthews to develop chemistry with Nylander long-term so they can be one of those Perry/Getzlaf duos that terrorize the league for years to come and never get broken up.

But again, Perry and Getzlaf didn’t walk into the NHL and just start cracking skulls on Day 1.

5. Expectations set too high

I think a big part of the problem here is that Matthews scored four goals in his first game and everyone said, “Well this is it.”

Not that everyone expected a Texas hat trick every single game, but that level of individual scoring explosion is going to set the bar way up there, even if it’s subconsciously. He had 6-4-10 in his first six games, so people never really had a chance to acclimate themselves to a world in which Matthews doesn’t score a ton of points.

4. His numbers are still phenomenal for a rookie

Yeah, it’s 6-4-10 in his first six and 0-2-2 in his last 10, but on the balance if you told a Leafs fan Matthews would go 0.75 points per game through the first month of the season, I think they would be fine with it.

3. He’s a scoring chance machine

Here’s a stat for you: Among all NHL skaters with at least 50 minutes of 5-on-5 time this season, Matthews currently ranks seventh in the league in scoring chances generated per 60. When he’s on the ice, the Leafs are taking more than 14.4 attempts from good shooting areas every hour. They’re also conceding fewer than 12.3.

What that tells you is that this is bad luck, plain and simple. The Leafs are shooting 6.5 percent when he’s on the ice. That’s a number that’s destined to rise sharply both because of his individual skill level and because even if he were a player with league-average skill, that number would necessarily have to go up just based on the math.

If this is a kid who hasn’t figured out how to play in the NHL yet — which, again, is a fair criticism — then once he does you might want to clear the decks. Having that many scoring chances a night is going to lead to plenty of goals.

2. It’s not like he’s not shooting

And along similar lines: In this goalless streak of 10 games, do you want to know how many shots he’s taken? It’s 37. Never once has he been held off the shot chart, and he has games of four (three times), five (twice) and six (once) during that stretch. The odds that there will be any 37-shot stretches in which a player of Matthews’s skill level goes without a goal are pretty small.

He’s doing it right now. But it won’t last forever. Simply put, he’s not a 9.5 percent shooter.

1. The Leafs weren’t supposed to be good anyway

And ah jeez if this streak stretches on any longer, the Leafs will probably lose a lot more games and miss the playoffs and settle for another good draft position. Rats. I bet they’d hate for that to happen.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.