NHL Weekend Takeaways: McDavid, Matthews reach otherworldly level

Mitch Marner stripped the puck off Alex Edler to get it to Auston Matthews, who scored against the Canucks for his 38th goal of the season.

The prospect of a head-to-head playoff meeting between Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews is growing stronger by the day. Before we pit them against each other, though, let’s group them together and ask, has this country ever had two NHLers playing at their otherworldly level at the same time?

Matthews’ latest outing saw him add to his league-best goal total with two tallies in a 5-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday. Then, people barely had time to stir their nightcap when McDavid did this to open the scoring in the late game.

The post-goal reaction of Calgary’s Chris Tanev basically says it all: What can you do to stop this guy?

McDavid added two assists in the 4-1 victory over Calgary and is now recording 1.78 points per game, the seventh-highest clip of the past 30 years and the best since Jaromir Jagr was getting on the scoresheet 1.82 times per game in 1995-96.

The Oilers captain might hit 100 points this year and the season started halfway through January. Matthews, meanwhile, is scoring 0.81 goals per game, which represents the eighth-highest clip in three decades and best since Mario Lemieux’s 0.99 during that same ’95-96 season.

Basically, these two are putting up points and goals at rates competitive with guys who played in an era when, say, in 1992-93 for instance, 14 players recorded 50-goal seasons. Know how many guys are scoring at a 50-goal pace this year? Two: Matthews and Mikko Rantanen.

So, really, have two guys ever done it better in this country? Or, more precisely, has Canada ever been home to a pair of league-defining players who are just tap dancing on the sun like this?

Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier might be the most complimentary 1-2 punch on a team that ever existed; Gretzky and Peter Stastny were the top two point-getters of the 1980s; Doug Gilmour and Patrick Roy seemed destined to meet on a Conn Smythe collision course in the 1993 playoffs; Jose Theodore and Jarome Iginla finished 1-2 in MVP voting in 2002; Daniel and Henrik dazzled every single time they hit the ice.

Hey, some Oil-head out there has likely sprung a leak screaming about how the non-McDavid person in this piece could be Leon Draisaitl, last year’s MVP and the second-leading scorer in the league this year.

We can safely say there is loads of precedent for two NHLers shining north of the 49th at the same time. And if you want to drag career accomplishments and excelling at different facets of the game into the discussion, knock yourself out.

I just don’t know that we’ve had two guys who — if we were actually allowed in rinks — would have you saying, “please take my money” like this.

McDavid moves like the Millennium Falcon; Matthews could hit the back of the net from Mars.

If you ran into a friend on the street and she said, “Did you see the crazy play from last night?” and you hadn’t, wouldn’t you immediately assume either 97 or 34 were involved?

As it stands, they’re on track to meet in the North Division final should first-place Toronto and second-place Edmonton both win their opening-round series.

And considering the level these two 1997-born young men are at now and how much road is ahead for them, at some point — when the playoff format returns to an East-West model — we’re going to see them collide in a Conn Smythe battle of their own with everything on the line.

Other Takeaways
• With a couple weeks to go, I think we can declare Tyler Toffoli the best free-agent signing of the off-season (With possible apologies to Tyson Barrie?).

Toffoli netted his 27th of the year on Saturday and it was a big one, knotting a game with Ottawa 2-2 late in the third before Montreal picked up a crucial overtime win. The former King and Canuck has already surpassed his previous career high of 24 goals and, for the cost of $4.25 million against the cap, is scoring at a 47-goal pace.

The only guys ahead of him in the race for the Rocket are Matthews, McDavid and Rantanen. It’s frightening to contemplate where the Canadiens offence would be without this guy.

• He might not be in Toffoli’s class, but Craig Smith is proving to be a nice addition to the Bruins after joining Boston as a UFA in the fall.

Smith netted a hat trick in the 6-2 smashing of the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday and his first goal, which opened the scoring 81 seconds into the affair, was a great example of the chemistry the Bruins have on their second unit now with David Krejci at centre, Smith at RW and the latest addition to the team, Taylor Hall, blazing down the left side.

Since Hall played his first game in Black and Gold on April 13, Smith has 5-5-10 in 11 outings. If the B’s can get consistent, high-level production from a line beyond the top unit of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, watch out.

Anthony Duclair had a pair of goals during Florida’s 5-4 win over Chicago on Saturday, including a serious individual effort to opening the scoring.

Duclair, you’ll recall, was not given a qualifying offer by the Senators in the fall following a lopsided 2019-20 campaign in which he scored 21 times through his first 37 games, then just twice in his final 29.

After representing himself as a UFA and inking a one-year deal with the Cats, Duclair has flipped the script in South Florida. The 25-year-old had three goals through 27 outings in 2021, but has heated up in a huge way the past month with seven goals and 17 points in 13 outings.

Duclair has been consistent during this stretch, too, getting his name on the scoresheet in all but one of those games. Even when he wasn’t finding the back of the net earlier in the year, Duclair was getting his share of assists. Playing beside Aleksander Barkov will bump anyone’s numbers, but he's providing incredible value for his $1.7-million salary.

Weekend Warrior
We have to give Ryan Miller some love at some point, just like the L.A. Kings did on Saturday. Expect a few more scenes like this in the coming days as the winningest American goalie in league history goes for his final W’s.

The Week Ahead
• It’s a massive Monday for NHL action, with 28 of 31 teams in action. Can the Jets pump the brakes on a six-game losing streak when they visit Ottawa?

• We’re basically down to two playoff chases as Dallas could still catch Nashville in the Central despite losing an OT heartbreaker to the Preds on Saturday, while Arizona could conceivably find a way to claw past St. Louis in the West.

Arizona — which is three points behind St. Louis despite playing three more games — probably needs to win out, but the Coyotes end with four contests against non-playoff teams in L.A. and San Jose. Dallas, meanwhile, close out with five straight road games, beginning Monday night in Florida.

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