Who steps up in Matthews absence? Historically, no one

Who steps up in Matthews absence? Historically, no one

You hear coaches talk about opportunity when a star player hits the IR. How it’s an opportunity for other guys to step up. Well, in the 21 games Auston Matthews has missed over the last 2 seasons, it would appear no one has. Literally.

With Auston Matthews out of the line-up, the Maple Leafs drop in offensive production in a couple of key areas identically reflects what he brings when he is in the line-up. Now, before you say, duh, no kidding, consider this – that means that when he’s been out, the player filling his roster spot and the players given more minutes to fill his role haven’t moved the needle an inch. A millimetre, for that matter.

Since the start of last season, Matthews’ 0.6 goals per game ranks 2nd to Alexander Ovechkin’s 0.62. In that time frame, Matthews has generated a ton of his offense from the slot, scoring 40 of his 44 goals on shots from the house. Matthews is one of only six players in the league to average at least two slot shots on net per game, since the start of last season. 

Not having Matthews in the line-up has predictably had an impact on the Leafs ability to generate quality chances but the exact link between Matthews production from the slot and the team’s when he’s not in the line-up is telling. In the 21 games Matthews has missed since the start of last season, the Leafs have registered an average of 1.9 fewer slot shots per game, almost identical to the 2.0 he brings when he’s in the line-up.

Toronto is also scoring an average of 0.41 fewer goals from the critical slot area when he’s out of the line-up, the exact same differential as their drop in total goals.

The Leafs drop in goals with Matthews out matches their drop in slot goals exactly and their drop in slot shots matches what Matthews creates to within a decimal point. 

Simply, when Matthews has been out of the line-up, he’s taken the high-danger slot shots and goals he produces with him and nobody has replaced them. 

Coincidence? Statistical anomaly? Maybe. However, creating quality scoring chances at a high rate isn’t something depth players can do by committee. The needle has literally not moved at all with Matthews out of the line-up relative to what he brings in this area. Toronto produced a season-low 11 slot shots on net against Winnipeg, the game Matthews left injured with 38 minutes to go, and dropped to a new low of 9 in its first game without him against Calgary.

The good news for the Leafs is, unlike previous years, they now have another top-five scoring chance generator in John Tavares who currently leads the NHL in slot shots. He’s being paid to move the needle and he’ll have to do just that for the next month if the Leafs want to improve on the 11-8-2 record they’ve posted over the last couple of seasons with Matthews on the shelf. 

(Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)