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Game 6 preview: Matthew Knies isn’t beholden to the past

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Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Arun Srinivasan
1 month ago
Conventional wisdom dictates that in order to succeed in the playoffs, you need your team’s leaders and best players to elevate their games. If you’ve followed the Toronto Maple Leafs for even a fractional amount of time, you know that convention and order doesn’t really apply here. Matthew Knies, Toronto’s overtime hero in Game 5, isn’t beholden to the team’s fraught past and while all eyes are on Mitch Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares during Auston Matthews’ injury-related absence, perhaps the inverse should be true.
Knies, Joseph Woll and Nick Robertson are not artifacts from the team’s eight-year Matthews-Marner era. A year ago, Knies was a few weeks removed from college and exceeded even the most optimistic projections. Woll, who excelled in the AHL, was thrust into action after Ilya Samsonov suffered an injury and performed admirably, even as the Florida Panthers eliminated the Maple Leafs on home ice. Robertson first made his mark as a 19-year-old sensation during the lost 2020 playoffs, fought through several injuries and clawed his way back into the lineup as an offensive threat who plays with all-out aggression on every shift. They’ve played their parts in previous runs before, but they aren’t wearing the institutional failures of the past.
We don’t want to delve too much into pop psychology, at least not in this corner, but Matthews and Nylander’s verbal barrage directed at Marner was dissected across Southern Ontario and beyond for 48 hours. There is an argument — particularly in Marner and Tavares’s cases, as former prodigies in the Greater Toronto Hockey League — that the mental toll of trying to overcome their cumulative struggles — is proving insurmountable, to say nothing of the Boston Bruins’ sound defensive structure. We would be wise to take on the ‘no thoughts, just vibes’ attitude set forth by Knies and the younger Maple Leafs ward.
If you were looking for some data, here is a Knies, err, nice idea: Toronto controls 62.2 percent of the expected goals when Knies is matched up against his primary defender, Bruins superstar David Pastrnak, at 5-on-5 via Natural Stat Trick. He is winning this vital matchup by simplifying the game, tracking back, and driving hard to the net. Woll saved 1.6 goals above expected in his Game 5 start and his cool, calm off-ice presence is a steadying factor for the Maple Leafs. Robertson is ready to run through a wall for the Maple Leafs and has accepted a defensively-inclined role, even though he’s just waiting to make his offensive stamp on the series.
If the Matthews-Marner era ends, there will be plenty of vitriol, bile, reflection and analysis to comb through. One thing is for sure: the kids are alright and they aren’t beholden to the Maple Leafs’ exhausting eight-year past.

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