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Matthews and Marner split up, Reaves in, and Steeves loaned to the Marlies: Leafs Practice Notes

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Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Michael Mazzei
2 months ago
The Leafs are coming off losses on consecutive nights during American Thanksgiving weekend, both of which saw them fall to mediocre teams well below them in the standings. Those types of defeats prompt a shuffling of the deck and Sheldon Keefe delivered by finally making a lineup change that any fans have been clamouring for.
This change felt inevitable as both Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner have not been playing to the standard that people have come to expect from them. While they are currently at a point-per-game pace heading into Tuesday’s clash against the Panthers, their current contracts mean that they have to be exceptional and neither of them has come close to reaching that level as of late. It’s not to say that the two players should never be put on the same line ever again, but some time apart at 5v5 could do a lot of good for Matthews and Marner.
The good thing is that Keefe has the option to switch the two players around for them to slot in alongside guys they have had success with in the past. William Nylander has been the Leafs’ MVP and should have no trouble picking things back up alongside Matthews, while John Tavares has great chemistry with Marner that creates magic every time. This change could also provide a boost for Matthew Knies and Tyler Bertuzzi respectively, especially with the former going through a bit of a funk as of late.
I partially understand why Keefe may have been hesitant to make this change until now given how well Nylander and Tavares have been to begin the year. But Matthews and Marner have been playing uninspired hockey for a few weeks now and this is the time to switch things up.
This may seem odd to scratch a player who has been doing well on the fourth line since getting called up, but I would imagine the Leafs are anticipating a war on Tuesday night and Ryan Reaves’ services would be useful there. To his credit, he did finally score a goal on Friday afternoon in what was arguably his best game of the season since opening night. With the extra cap space opened up by John Klingberg going on LTIR last week, Toronto can now properly utilize Reaves so they get the most out of his limited minutes.
I don’t hate the idea in principle of why the Leafs are bringing him back into the lineup for this one, but it does come at the expense of McMann who has not played in over a week dating back to when the team was still in Sweden. My guess is he gets back in for Thursday night’s clash against the Kraken as having that extra mobility will be beneficial. It would have been better if McMann was playing on Saturday night, but Keefe opted to go 11-7 so he will have to sleep in the bed he made.
Alex Steeves is the notable player absent from practice today as he was loaned to the Marlies this morning. He certainly earned a call-up with his strong play through the first few weeks of the season as he currently leads the AHL squad in scoring with 18 points in 14 games played. Despite the impressive start to the campaign, it wasn’t enough for him to get into either of the weekend’s games and Steeves will return to the Marlies for now where he should be able to pick up where he left off.
William Lagesson being a projected healthy scratch makes sense given he is coming off his two worst games of the season and is likely banged up from this hit delivered by Radim Zohorna on Saturday night. Simon Benoit’s physicality should also be useful against a scrappy Panthers team so it is for the best that Lagesson gets the night off.
At the time of writing, Keefe has not spoken with the media about who will be Tuesday night’s starter. But if I were to make an educated guess, it would make the most sense for Joseph Woll to get the nod even though he is coming off the loss in the last game. With Ilya Samsonov continuing to struggle and the Atlantic Division race remaining tight, Toronto cannot afford to drop any more crucial points and they need to stick with the goalie who will give them the best chance at winning which is currently Woll.
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