Life without Marner is more difficult than the Maple Leafs 2-0-1 record shows

Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
29 days ago
It’s only been three games so far that the Leafs have been without Mitch Marner. Tonight will be the fourth game and it seems highly unlikely that Marner will be available tomorrow night either, as he hasn’t practiced with the Leafs yet. In the time that Marner has been out, the Leafs have gone 2-0-1 and Marner’s growing number of critics might be making their case that this small sample that includes victories over Montreal and Philadelphia, but also a late game comeback/shootout win for Carolina. You could make the case that the Leafs 13 goals in 3 games means that offence doesn’t dry up due to Marner’s absence, but the key thing is where the offence is drying up.
While no opinions should be based on a three game sample and here are a few numbers that stand out during Marner’s absence from the Leafs

The Matthews drop off

While the Leafs have had balanced scoring in the past three games, which is nice, Auston Matthews has one goal and one assist. Not exactly a slump but when Matthews was at a 70 goal pace, one goal in three is a steep decline.
It’s not just the goals where Matthews is seeing a drop off, as his CF% has gone from 53 to 45, his expected goals % has gone down to 41% from 54 and while his goals for have remained stable for the moment, there has been a slight decline there as well.
I don’t think it is an earth shattering revelation to say that Auston Matthews needs someone like Mitch Marner on his line, but the numbers show the benefits are limited just to offence.

The not so special teams

You can point to the Leafs powerplay taking a turn well before the absence of Marner from the lineup but going 0 for 10 without him is a sign that things are most certainly worse and at the very least Marner’s absence is stalling the Leafs from finding a longer term solution. I will admit to some level of confusion over Sheldon Keefe not using Max Domi as at least a power play replacement for Mitch Marner and I’m not sure how removing another strong passer like Morgan Rielly from the top unit helps at this exact time but it goes without saying the top unit could benefit from Marner’s vision as soon as he’s ready to return.
At the same time the Leafs opposition has gone 4 for 12 on the powerplay during Marner’s absence and speaks to the need for getting him back on the penalty kill ASAP. Some of that might be stemming from new personnel adjusting to the PK as Connor Dewar and Joel Edmundson have both been on for 3 GA and Lyubushkin for 2 as well, but frequent Marner PK linemate David Kampf has 2 against him, as does TJ Brodie who is frequently on with Marner and perhaps those situations could have gone better.

The drop off in takeaways

While Mitch Marner has built himself a reputation for takeaways and that’s part of the key role he plays on the penalty kill, this season it has been Auston Matthews leading the Leafs in that department.
Nevertheless, with Marner’s absence, takeaways have disappeared from the Leafs repertoire in the past three games with only Bobby McMann producing them at a consistent level, and Matthews’ being at 1/3 of the rate he was with Marner in the lineup. Takeaways have disappeared for Nylander’s game completely during that this three game window as well, and while Marner shouldn’t have an impact on the takeaway numbers of others, this could be a sign that the Leafs are playing a different style up front (they are) and this is one area of their game they are letting slide, and it was one of their strengths.
As we approach the playoffs and the time when we (myself included) tend to call out Mitch Marner for not taking over games, it seems important to appreciate where his impact shows up. This isn’t about making a case for rushing him back, in fact just the opposite. The Leafs are better off having a fully rested and painfree Mitch Marner in their lineup and even though in any situation all it takes is one more hit to make things worse, trying to have Leafs players as close to 100% as possible for the playoffs should be their goal even more than late season wins.
Data from Natural Stat Trick

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