Maple Leafs have enough secondary scoring to make a deep playoff run

Photo credit:Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Shane Seney
2 months ago
The Toronto Maple Leafs are as deep up front as they’ve been in the last two decades and this balanced attack should set them up for success come playoff time. While Toronto’s big guns need to continue to produce at a high clip during the Stanley Cup Playoffs to reach the ultimate goal, the Maple Leafs have enough secondary scoring throughout their lineup to take the pressure off the ‘core four’.
With Mitch Marner returning to the lineup on Saturday night in Montreal, head coach Sheldon Keefe went with a spread offence and moved William Nylander down to the third line with Pontus Holmberg and Matthew Knies. It’s not often you have your second-leading scorer and a winger who is likely to hit his first-ever 100-point season playing in the ‘bottom-six’, but Keefe currently has that luxury. Knies can be an x-factor for this team, with up to 14 goals on the season, all at even strength. He’s become a physical presence and is gaining more confidence defensively with each game. Holmberg has quickly earned the trust of his coach on the defensive side of things and we’ve seen how much Nylander has progressed in this department. This trio should certainly get some more looks down the stretch and could be a steady third line in the playoffs.
Marner played alongside John Tavares and Bobby McMann, and Keefe kept one of the hottest lines in the league together at the top with the trio of Matthews, Domi and Bertuzzi. The first line shouldn’t be touched; if Keefe wants to get the most out of Domi and Bertuzzi, they both should stay flanking either side of the best goal scorer in the league. The chemistry continues to develop and they are getting to the point where they don’t even need to look, they know exactly where each other is going to be. The type of chemistry that serves a team very well in the Stanley Cup Playoffs when time and space disappear in a hurry.
Tavares has one goal in his last eight games, so Marner is the perfect winger to help get him going. The Maple Leafs captain is having a down season to his standards, only averaging a point in 80% of his games played, his lowest total since his rookie year in 2009-10. McMann looks like a nice fit on the left side of the second line, and mentioned to Mark Masters of TSN after the win against the Canadiens how much he enjoyed playing with the very chatty Marner:
“He’s telling me where to be & talking off the ice too, on the bench, & showing me stuff. It was fun to play with him. He just sees everything. He knows where every player is”
McMann has scored 14 even-strength goals this season, only two behind Tavares, who has played 22 more games. It’s going to be fun to watch how much the 27-year-old winger can keep his momentum going from the regular season into the playoffs. He’s never played a Stanley Cup Playoff game and has minimal postseason experience throughout this professional hockey career.

The Leafs’ secondary scoring has a higher ceiling this season

Let’s circle back to the Maple Leafs’ 2022-23 playoff run. One where Kyle Dubas went all in, bringing in Ryan O’Reilly, Noel Acciari, Luke Schenn, Erik Gustafsson, Sam Lafferty, and Jake McCabe. The Leafs made it to the second round for the first time in almost 20 years, a success in itself, but the offensive attack wasn’t balanced enough and unfortunately the big guns couldn’t carry the load to make it to the Eastern Conference Final.
Throughout two rounds, Alex Kerfoot had only two points, Lafferty scored once in nine games, and Michael Bunting got suspended, which didn’t help, but when he did play, he only chipped in with one goal. Toronto was too top-heavy and the Florida Panthers were able to limit the top two lines enough to close things out in five games. The Leafs scored two goals in each of the five games against the Panthers and as you’d expect with that type of offensive output, it wasn’t good enough.
If you look at the Stanley Cup Champion Vegas Golden Knights and their balanced attack from last season’s championship run, they had eight players who managed at least five postseason goals including four players who hit double digits. Chandler Stephenson had a coming-out party with 10 snipes, meanwhile, it helped take all the pressure off Jack Eichel, who only managed six goals in 22 games. Perhaps the Leafs could see a similar situation this spring with McMann helping take some of the offensive pressure off Tavares.
Circling back to Toronto’s top line, Matthews has been under the spotlight during the playoffs, for obvious reasons. He’s going to be shadowed like he’s never been shadowed before once the first round comes around and having Domi/Bertuzzi and their feel for each other should go a long way. Bertuzzi was a beast for the Bruins during last season’s playoffs, scoring five goals and 10 points in seven games, meanwhile delivering 18 hits. Domi has scored some big playoff goals in his career, and put up 13 points in 19 postseason games with the Dallas Stars last season, after only playing 20 regular season games in Texas.
Nevertheless, the Maple Leafs are going to need all hands on deck to make a Stanley Cup Playoff run and that includes Ilya Samsonov and some shut-down defence. All of the attention shouldn’t be on the offence, but when you only score two goals a game during a second-round playoff series, it’s hard not to be. With the likes of Knies, McMann, Bertuzzi, and Domi contributing to a newfound spread offence, the Maple Leafs are set up for success. Now let’s wait and see if Keefe can get them to execute.

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