Knee Jerk Reaction: Leafs need more out of Matthews and Marner

Photo credit:© Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Richard
3 months ago
The Leafs took on their former boss for the first time on Saturday night, falling to Kyle Dubas’ Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 3-2. It was their second loss in as many days, but that isn’t the only troubling trend developing for the Buds.
Once again, the Leafs just didn’t get enough out of their top line – particularly Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. The third member of that line, Matthew Knies, had a strong showing, netting his sixth goal of the season while firing a season-high five shots on goal. Knies’ goal also came in the midst of a line change, without Matthews and Marner on the ice, as he buried the perfect rebound pass from Calle Järnkrok.
Matthews and Marner were both held off the scoresheet and finished -1 after being on the ice when the Penguins quickly responded to the Leafs’ opening tally. Following another disappointing performance against Pittsburgh, Matthews and Marner have now combined for just one goal and five assists in the last seven games.
The lack of production would be less concerning if it were simply a matter of poor puck luck or running into a string of hot goaltenders, but that hasn’t been the case. The duo has created more than their fair share of magic over the years, but they’ve looked disjointed for most of the season and haven’t been generating pressure or dangerous chances on a consistent basis. Marner, specifically, hasn’t looked like himself through the first 19 games of the campaign, misfiring on routine passes and making poor decisions under pressure.
According to NaturalStatTrick.com, the Leafs’ top line controlled just 39.1% of the expected goals against the Penguins on Saturday, 42.2% against Chicago on Friday, and 39.5% against Minnesota last Sunday. Simply put, they’ve been getting caved in. We’ve all seen Matthews and Marner have quiet outings only for their elite skill to pop and give the Leafs a big goal, or at least some momentum, but they’ve struggled to tilt the ice in the Leafs’ favour with any consistency.
Now, it may seem a bit unfair to be picking on Matthews and Marner – Matthews has the second-most goals in the league and has been one of the league’s most prolific scorers for his entire career, and Marner has hovered around 100 points while being one of the NHL’s best defensive forwards, but it comes with the territory when you make the money that those two make and have the reputation that they’ve built up over the past seven seasons.
After winning four straight, the Leafs have now dropped back-to-back games despite getting contributions further down the depth chart. Knies has scored in back-to-back games and now has three goals in his last five games. Tyler Bertuzzi has really come on as of late, now with five points in his last five games after opening the scoring on Saturday. The third line of Max Domi, Nick Robertson, and Calle Järnkrok have chipped in on a regular basis since being put together.
Continuing to get consistent secondary scoring will be crucial for the Leafs, but with the way this team is constructed, it’s going to be on the big guns to carry the mail. William Nylander’s 17-game point streak came to an end on Friday, and he has now gone a couple of games without a point, but he and linemate John Tavares have been the most consistent Leafs all season, so there is little reason to be concerned there.
Keefe is giving Matthews and Marner time to play through it and find their top level together, but they’ll need to find it soon before the coach has to consider other options.
Statistics from NHL.com & NaturalStatTrick.com
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