When the Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals play in the 2018 Coors Light Stadium Series at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland, on March 3 (8 p.m. ET; NBC, HNIC, TVA Sports, NHL.TV), Toronto center Auston Matthews and Washington left wing Alex Ovechkin will be in the spotlight.
And the 20-year-old Matthews, in his second NHL season, could be following the career trajectory of Ovechkin, who is 32 and in his 13th NHL season.
Each has been among the League's goal leaders from the beginning of his NHL career, but Ovechkin, the No. 1 pick in the 2004 NHL Draft, got off to a stronger start. In his first 118 League games, he had 155 points (77 goals, 78 assists). Matthews, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, has 102 points (59 goals, 43 assists) in his first 118 NHL games.
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Since his League debut at age 19, a four-goal performance against the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 12, 2016, Matthews was tied for fourth in goals, eight behind Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning, entering Wednesday. He was tied for No. 125 in assists and was No. 28 in points. After his first 118 games, Ovechkin, who entered the NHL at age 20 in 2005-06, ranked first in goals, five ahead of Ilya Kovalchuk, was tied for No. 17 in assists and was fourth in points.
Ovechkin's 18-goal lead on Matthews can be explained, in part, by power-play usage. Matthews has averaged 2:23 per game with the man-advantage, which is No. 164 on the list of average power-play time during that span. During the same window at the start of his NHL career, Ovechkin averaged 6:24 on the power play, which is No. 10 on the list and 4:01 more per game. Ovechkin outscored Matthews 31-10 on the power play in the 118-game span to start each player's career.
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Despite Ovechkin's success with the man-advantage, Washington ranked No. 27 in the NHL with a power-play percentage of 15.4 percent during that span. Toronto ranks third since Matthews made his debut in 2016-17, at 22.8 percent.
At even strength, each player ranked first in goals during the 118-game span; Matthews has 49, and Ovechkin had 43. Some of that advantage can be explained by extra ice time; Matthews has averaged 15:31 per game in such situations, which is 1:09 more than Ovechkin through his first 118 games.
The rest of the difference can be explained by the offensive strength of each player's team. Since Matthews' debut, Toronto has played 128 games and ranks sixth with 393 goals, which is 3.07 goals per game. That is 0.18 goals per game more than Washington, which ranked No. 19 in the NHL with 344 goals in the first 119 games it played since drafting Ovechkin (who missed one game), or 2.89 goals per game.
The difference in scoring strength between the teams makes it challenging to completely compare the scoring totals of each.
Ovechkin was the focal point of Washington's offense in his first two seasons, and Matthews has been one of several productive scorers for the Maple Leafs since arriving in Toronto.
Upon arrival, Ovechkin played on the Capitals' top scoring line with Dainius Zubrus and Chris Clark. Zubrus and Clark had previously been secondary offensive contributors, and their numbers were significantly boosted by their time with Ovechkin; Zubrus improved from a previous NHL career high of 43 points to 57 in 2005-06, and Clark from 25 to 39 in 2005-06, and scored 54 in 2006-07.
Ovechkin's line was Washington's primary source of scoring. After 118 games, Ovechkin's 155 points were twice as many as any teammate except Zubrus, who had 90.
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In contrast, Toronto does not place its scoring focus on one player. Since his debut, Matthews' 102 points lead the Maple Leafs, but William Nylander has 93, Mitchell Marner has 92, James van Riemsdyk has 91 and Nazem Kadri has 85.
That's not to say that Matthews had more established linemates than Ovechkin, but that he doesn't carry the same share of the scoring. Matthews has played on Toronto's top scoring line with some combination of Nylander, Zach Hyman and Connor Brown, each of whom was a rookie in 2016-17.
There are also differences between Matthews and Ovechkin in age and style. Ovechkin is a left wing, and was 22 years old at this point of his NHL career. Matthews is 20, and a center. Ovechkin had 247 hits through his first 118 games, and Matthews has 27. Ovechkin scored 77 goals on a League-leading 623 shots, a 12.4 shooting percentage. Matthews relies more on precision, and has 59 goals on 392 shots, a 15.0 shooting percentage.
Even with some notable differences between the two players, the similarities to Ovechkin, who has 586 goals and 498 assists for 1,084 points in 966 NHL games, are promising for Matthews and his future.