March 30, 2017, 6:36 PM ET [2 Comments]
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With just over a week to go in the regular season, those who vote will have some difficult choices for the NHL awards. The Hart will be a contest between Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby, the Norris a battle between Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson and perhaps Victor Hedman, but the much ballyhooed race between Patrik Laine and Auston Matthews for the Calder should not be close.
Matthews’ goal on Tuesday not only broke Wendel Clark’s team record for most goals by a rookie, but moved him past Laine to lead all rookies in goals (35) and points (62).
The top pick also leads in power-play points (19 to 14), game-winning goals (6 to 5) and tied in assists (27), while Laine leads in points-per-game average (.897 to .827) and power-play goals (9 to 6), which is remarkable since Matthews has more defensive responsibilities playing up the middle for a head coach that demands effort at both ends of the ice.
“We met at the start of the year and I made it real clear that you can play on the wing or you can play center (and he said) 'No, I want to play center and I want to play 200 feet.' He wants to do that.” Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said on Tuesday. “(Matthews) wants to be the best player in the world up front, so that's going to be the challenge for us. He's going to have to be an elite guy, 200-feet and those guys make their team win.”
Laine has played on the Jets top offensive line with veterans Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers, but has tailed off slightly (2 goals and 0 assists in the last nine games) for a club that was eliminated from the playoffs earlier this week.
Matthews has played with rookie wingers Zach Hyman, Connor Brown and William Nylander all season and bounced back from a seven-game pointless streak with seven points (4 goals, 3 assists) in his last six games with Toronto battling for an Eastern Conference playoff spot.
Laine has been marvelous this season, along with Zach Werenski, Matt Murray, Sebastian Aho, Matthew Tkachuk, and fellow Leaf rookies Nylander, Mitch Marner, Connor Brown and Nikita Zaitsev, but it will come as a complete shock if anyone other than the Scottsdale, AZ native takes to the stage in Las Vegas when the Calder Trophy winner is announced.
The Leafs start their final road trip of the regular season against the Nashville Predators on Thursday.
The Predators are in a battle with the red-hot St. Louis Blues (for third place in the Central Division) and Calgary Flames (for the top Western Conference wildcard spot) and have a very good 23-8-7 record at Bridgestone Arena.
Toronto will dress the same lineup that defeated Florida 3-2 on Tuesday, with the exception of goalie Frederik Andersen, who returns after missing one game with a jaw injury.
Tyler Bozak did not take the morning skate, but will play on Thursday. Babcock indicated that the club’s medical staff is carefully managing an unspecified injury to the veteran center.