Matthews has some Bossy in him, in that quick release. But he has different qualities as well.
“He has a snap shot, a slap shot, a wrist shot, a shot off both feet so you don’t know where it’s coming from and quick release,” said New York Rangers president John Davidson, who lists Bossy, Gretzky, Lemieux, Guy Lafleur and Phil Esposito as the greatest goal scorers he played against in his 10 NHL seasons.
“All of them were different,” said Davidson. “And then you look at Matthews and he’s accurate and he’s got velocity and quickness in his delivery. A lot of times with him, you notice a goalie get a bit of the puck and it goes through him. That’s how hard he shoots it. The biggest secret for him is the velocity he gets on it. There’s almost anger in his shot. It’s a rocket. And he’s not a one-shot guy, he’s an every-shot guy. You’re talking about a player in his fifth year taking it to another level.”
Matthews scored a goal against Ottawa Wednesday night that you had to stop, look at, stop it again on your television, to see what really happened. It went that fast. Now you see it, now you don’t. Bossy watched the goal Thursday morning and realised he was seeing something few could ever accomplish. In a way, it looked like him.
“It’s hard to put into context what he is doing,” said Bossy. “But he’s doing it. And it’s great for the game, great to see.”
The shortened season robs both Matthews and hockey fans of what could be some kind of record-breaking season, either in Toronto or around the league. He won’t play 82 games. The equivalent of a 50-goal season is scoring 34 in 56 games. The equivalent of a 60-goal season is 41 goals in 56 games. Bossy once scored 50 goals in 50 games. Gretzky was so impressed he came back the same year, next season, to score 50 in 39 games.
No one will ever do that again. Gretzky’s record came when teams were scoring four goals a game. Today, they’re scoring fewer than three. Scoring is down 25% from the early ’80s. But as you’re watching this season, and you’re counting goals, you’re seeing something in Toronto you’ve never seen before.
Leafs president Brendan Shanahan scored 50 goals twice for the St. Louis Blues. The last time he did it, there were 14 different 50-goal scorers in the league. There have been 14 50-goal scorers in total over the last 11 seasons, Ovechkin being five of them.
“I hate comparing eras because every era is great in its own way,” said Bossy.
But the way Bossy scored, so quick and with such ease, may never be matched.
“He had this shot, 18 inches off the ice, that you couldn’t stop,” said Davidson. “You just couldn’t.”
The same now, without the 18 inches, is being said about Matthews.
“It’s his hands,” said Bossy, now 64 years old. “It’s his feet. It’s his quickness. It’s his size. It’s his angles. A lot of has to do with hand-eye coordination. He has that at the highest level.
“I like watching him. He finds his place. He has that quick release. And just like that, it’s in the net.”
Just like that.