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Knee Jerk Reaction: Magic Mitch leads Leafs to shootout win over Seattle

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Photo credit:© John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Richard
2 months ago
Things haven’t gone Mitch Marner’s way very often this season, perhaps perfectly illustrated by the blistering wrist shot that caught him square in the jaw in Tuesday night’s game against Florida. Somewhat surprisingly, Marner returned to the game sporting a full cage and seemed to find his legs in the back half of the game.
Marner shed the cage for the bubble look against Seattle on Thursday, and he may just want to keep it for a while longer after he broke out to lead the Leafs to a 4-3 shootout win.
He entered Thursday’s contest with 20 points through 20 games – production that most players would be more than happy with – but eight of those points came in a two-game span earlier this month, and he had been held off the scoresheet entirely eight times already. Marner had also gone eight games without finding the back of the net, but he made up for lost time against the Kraken. He opened the scoring on the power play early on, converted a heavy one-timer early in the second, and completed the hat trick to regain a two-goal lead after Jared McCann brought Seattle to within one.
As we have seen all too often this season, the Leafs were unable to hold the lead, even with Joseph Woll putting together another impressive performance between the pipes, and they allowed another game to go the distance. It was the 10th time already this season that the Leafs have gone to overtime and their fifth shootout. Fittingly, it came down to Mitch Marner to secure the victory and he made no mistake putting the puck behind Phillip Grubauer for the fourth time on the night.
Sure, it was another case of the points coming in bunches for Marner, and he is going to need to find another level of consistency in order for the Leafs to have success, but anyone who has watched closely this season knows that Marner’s struggles have gone well beyond raw point production. He hasn’t been anywhere close to the dynamic offensive threat that Leafs fans have come to know, routinely flubbing passes he usually completes with ease and making questionable decisions at both ends of the ice.
Thursday’s game was a different story, and Marner had his legs going from the opening puck drop. He was flying around the offensive zone, linking up with his linemates on small-area passes to sustain pressure, and he looked engaged on every shift. The trio of Marner, John Tavares, and Tyler Bertuzzi were easily the Leafs’ best line and controlled the run of play for almost the entire game, finishing with 78.5% of the expected goals.
The Leafs needed this win with things being as tight as they are in the Atlantic Division, and Marner may have needed a game like this even more, but there are still issues that need to be addressed with this team. It was abundantly clear that the Leafs were down to their seventh, eighth, and ninth defensemen as Woll faced way too many uncontested shots from dangerous areas, and he probably deserves as much credit as Marner does for helping the Leafs secure the two points.
With some movement on the trade market earlier in the day, the conversation around how the Leafs can improve their blue line is sure to pick up, but they remain in something of a holding pattern with the uncertainty surrounding John Klingberg’s injury. It doesn’t appear that help is arriving imminently, but the need may not be so glaring if Marner can build off his hat trick performance and get back to being the consistently dominant X-factor that everyone knows he can be.
 
Statistics from EliteProspects.com & NaturalStatTrick.com

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