Maple Leafs’ Keefe Was Right to Call Out Marner & Top Line

It was very clear that Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe wasn’t at all pleased with his team’s performance in their 5-3 loss to the San Jose Sharks. The Maple Leafs had time to prep for this game while the Sharks were in a back-to-back situation playing the Ottawa Senators the night before. 

Related: Maple Leafs Daily Downlaod

Post game, Keefe made it clear that while Nick Ritchie was being used a scapegoat, Matthews and Marner deserved some of the blame as well. “That line wasn’t going,” Keefe said according to TSN. “You should be asking as many questions about Matthews and Marner.” 

Matthews did have his moments, but there were times where he was off as he is still getting back into rhythm from offseason wrist surgery. Marner is a different story as he’s been virtually invisible to start the season. It’s still early on, but the Maple Leafs are going to need more than just average play from one of their top paid players.

The Struggle Continues with Marner

In a game where the Maple Leafs did look like the better team and top line had their ups and downs, Keefe was absolutely right to call out his top line. Marner more so in this case as he’s played in every game this season. He hasn’t looked particularly strong with his play. It looks as if the same moves that he’s making out there are exactly the same ones that many fans weren’t pleased with in the postseason.

Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Mitchell Marner (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)

He’s being way too patient with the puck and his decision-making isn’t where it’s been in the past. Usually, he’s able to make high-end reads and execute even the most difficult passes and yet, we’re not seeing that. Even on the power play where he was given a new role in hopes of being a little more deceptive, he hasn’t made any sort of impact at the bumper spot as the top unit failed to get any sort of pressure and momentum going. 

While he has had some flashes with his playmaking abilities, there are many times where you have expected better from him. Early on, he’s generated only one assist in five games and that came in the first game against the Montreal Canadiens. Not the kind of production you had envisioned with a top-end winger making close to $11 million.

It’s still very early in the 2021-22 season and there’s enough time for Marner to break out. Though, it’s not the kind of conversation we should be having with one of the team’s star players. He needs to get going and fast. This team relies on him and if he isn’t performing up to standards, that is concerning. 

Marner Needs To Get Going

Players have tough stretches every now and then. For Marner, this isn’t like him to be this inconsistent and catch the coach’s attention for the wrong reasons. He is way too good of a player to be struggling like he did in the playoffs and to start this season. As THW’s Alex Hobson wrote in his lineup piece, Marner is in his own head at the moment.

I previously wrote on what Marner needs to do in order to be successful. Teams have caught onto his predictable ways and his tendencies when he has the puck. Even though he’s generating chances, he’s still struggling to find any consistent offensive production.  

Right now, he’s slowing the play down and is constantly second guessing himself– which could be contributing to his early season struggles. He’s always been a quick thinker with the puck and he needs to show that again in order to be that dominant player.

Toronto Maple Leafs Mitchell Marner
Toronto Maple Leafs Mitchell Marner (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Derik Hamilton)

The Maple Leafs need the play that Marner was capable of displaying from the regular season in 2020-21 and before that. There needs to be that creativity, deceptive play and energy that he’s known to bring. There has to be more of a sense of urgency and conviction than ever and take charge of every shift with his speed.

It’s tough to see Marner struggling this early. Though, there isn’t any doubt that once he ends this scoring slump, he will go on a tear and the points will start to come in.