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Maple Leafs' Auston Matthews is on pace for the NHL's most goals in a season in nearly 30 years

Max Domi lined up for a faceoff in Washington, looked over at Alex Ovechkin and thought, “Wow, that’s going to be the greatest goal-scorer of all time.”

Then he looked over at Auston Matthews and realized his Toronto teammate could be in that discussion too.

That came in the middle of another two-goal game by Matthews, who has scored an NHL-leading 58 this season. Scoring 70 would require a goal-a-game tear down the stretch, which isn't out of the realm of possibility by any means, but the U.S.-born center is on pace for 67, which would be the most in the NHL in nearly 30 years.

“We’ve got more stuff to worry about in our locker room as far as trying to build our game toward the end of the season and stuff,” Matthews said. "The individual stuff, obviously you want to accomplish stuff. You want to push yourself to be as great as you can. That’s what I try to do every night. I’m just going to continue to push and try to elevate my game towards the stretch and do what I can to help the team win.”

Ovechkin owns the single-season record for goals in the salary cap era, which began in 2005, when he scored 65 in 2007-08. That was after rule changes opened up the game, increased power plays and showcased a generation of talent led by the Capitals winger and Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby.

Matthews, Edmonton's Connor McDavid and Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon have succeeded Ovechkin and Crosby in those starring roles. Matthews (two seasons ago) and McDavid (three times) have already won the Hart Trophy as MVP, and MacKinnon is among the leading candidates for it this year.

Ovechkin, who at 848 goals is 47 away from breaking Wayne Gretzky's career record, is rooting for Matthews to surpass his single-season mark.

“I’m cheering for him,” Ovechkin said last week. “Happy for him. I hope he gets it. Maybe 70, you never know. He’s a special player. It’s fun to watch.”

Not so fun to defend. Washington coach Spencer Carbery said after his team's loss to Toronto, “We had zero answer for No. 34 tonight,” referring to Matthews' jersey number that has become as associated with him as 8 for Ovechkin, 87 for Crosby, 97 for McDavid and 29 for MacKinnon.

Matthews has scored 60 in a season once and, given the Maple Leafs' propensity for offense, it would be foolish to rule out a run that gets him to 70 before the playoffs begin.

“Just the way that he plays off the puck, plays to get pucks back, he’s always there in support,” teammate Bobby McMann said. "It’s easy to play with him, and there’s a reason he’s scoring so many.”

So many that there's already buzz about whether Ovechkin's time as hockey's all-time leading goal-scorer, if he gets there, could be short-lived. Matthews is actually outpacing him at this point in their careers, with 357 goals in his first 550 games compared to Ovechkin's 338.

“It’s crazy to think that Alex can break Wayne’s record, potentially, hopefully, and then Auston’s going to be sniffing at that, too," Domi said. "It’s really special for guys like us to be able to play on the same ice surface as those guys and have fun and enjoy the moment because those are two generational talents.”

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AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl