In Ontario, Canada, Toronto Maple Leafs fans don blue and white jerseys with the number “34” on their backs. Auston Matthews is their hero — their superstar — and he’s playing like one this season. With a sneaky release and lethal shot accuracy, Matthews is tied for the league-lead with 37 goals and can easily hit 50 with the pace that he's on.
Three hundred miles away under the bright lights of Broadway is goaltender Igor Shesterkin. The Russian dynamo has been nothing short of spectacular for the New York Rangers. His steadiness in the crease has often stymied teams, posting 25 wins on the year. A 0.941 save percentage means Shesterkin is on pace for the best statistical season since Jacques Plante’s 1970–71 campaign with the Maple Leafs.
Matthews, Shesterkin. One puts pucks in nets, the other one keeps them out. But who is truly more valuable to their team? As we approach the two-thirds mark of the NHL season, the race for the Hart Memorial Trophy (given to the MVP of the league) is seemingly down to these two candidates.
Other names have popped up throughout the year. Three-time Hart winner Alex Ovechkin is posting insane numbers for a 36-year-old. Jonathan Huberdeau is having a career year for the offensively explosive Florida Panthers. There’s also the Edmonton duo, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who are No. 1 and No. 2 in points, respectively.
But when examining which players have lifted their teams the most, Matthews and Shesterkin are in a tier above the rest. Though regarded as a highly skilled team, the Leafs have relied heavily on contributions from their first line, headed by Matthews, this season. Goals matter more than assists, despite what NHL statistics say, and no human on the planet is better at scoring them than the Arizona native.
On the flip side, what could be more crucial than preventing goals? On a theoretical level, the goalie — the last line of defense, the only player on the team who plays a full 60 minutes — is the ultimate carrier of a team’s success. Shesterkin’s stellar season has certainly gifted the Rangers a handful of wins above what they should have.
There are games left to be played, but as it stands, these two franchise-altering players are neck and neck for the most respected individual trophy in the NHL.
Some other thoughts from around the league:
- Seventeen goals were scored in what was supposed to be an everyday matchup between Toronto and the Detroit Red Wings this past Saturday. The last time the lamp was lit that many times was October 2017: a 9–8 win for the Winnipeg Jets over the Philadelphia Flyers.
- After a slower than expected start, the Colorado Avalanche have easily vaulted into first place in the league. With a whopping 24 wins in 27 games since the All-Star break, the rest of the teams in the NHL must pinpoint their weakness (if they even have one).
- Tuesday night’s contest between the Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets was precluded by a moving rendition of the national anthem sung by a Ukrainian choir. The NHL continues to show support for Ukrainians.
Enjoy the action this week!