Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors: Marner, Campbell, Liljegren, Muzzin & Holl

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, we’ll review the team’s play over the last few games. Specifically, we’ll look at Mitch Marner’s rise up the franchise’s scoring leaders. Next we’ll compare the success of the first two lines over the 11 games the team has played this month. Finally, we’ll also look at the work of the team’s defense. 

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As the Maple Leafs prepare to meet the Pittsburgh Penguins tomorrow night, a review of the team shows a number of interesting things.

Item One: Mitch Marner Is Moving Up the Franchise Leader Board

On January 31, Auston Matthews became the second-fastest Maple Leafs’ player to reach 400 points when. He did it in 372 games. Now, just 15 days later, Mitch Marner joined Matthews in the record book as the third-fastest player to reach that same 400 point plateau. Among his goal and two assists versus the Seattle Kraken was Marner’s 400th point. He scored them in 392 games.  

Toronto Maple Leafs' Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews
Toronto Maple Leafs’ Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

Marner’s goal was his 11th in his last 11 games. His three points give him 22 in those 11 games. In those eleven games, Marner surpassed former Maple Leafs’ John Anderson and Phil Kessel to move into 21st place in all-time Maple Leafs’ scoring. He needs just six points to move into a 20th place tie with Gary Leeman. 

Item Two: Jack Campbell’s Better Game in Seattle

Prior to the Kraken game, we stated that the Leafs needed to play the same type of 200-foot game in front of Jack Campbell that they did in the New Jersey Devils’ game just prior to the All-Star Break. They did just that. They built a 4-1 lead in the first half of the game, and then gave the Kraken very few chances the rest of the way.  

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Although it’s not likely how Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe planned it, because his team spent a lot of time in their own zone, according to naturalstattrick the Maple Leafs only gave up four high-danger chances in the game. One thing noticeably different last night, compared to the three previous games, was how committed the forwards were to coming back and helping to break up plays. It wasn’t pretty but it was effective. Granted it was against one of the NHL’s poorest teams.  

Item Three: A Tale of the Tape for the First Two Lines

In the past month (11 games) here are the production numbers at five-on-five for the Matthews’ line.

PlayerGoalsAssistsPointsGoals For/Against
Mitch Marner5813+6
Auston Matthews4812+4
Michael Bunting819+8

Below are the production numbers at five-on-five for the Tavares’ line for that same time period.

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PlayerGoalsAssistsPointsGoals For/Against
Alex Kerfoot145-5
John Tavares134-8
William Nylander033-9

While the Matthews line has been dominant, the Tavares line has been struggling. Coach Keefe must be aware of that. At times over the past few games, Keefe has tried both Pierre Engvall and Ilya Mikheyev on the left wing on that line in an effort to shake things up. The Engvall promotion makes sense. In the 11 games played over the past month, Engvall has three goals, seven points, and is plus-2 at five-on-five.  

Pierre Engvall Toronto Maple Leafs
Pierre Engvall, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The problem replacing Kerfoot is that he’s been the best player on that line during that time. Keefe has stated recently that his best line combinations include the Tavares, Nylander, Kerfoot line. With the success the Matthews, Marner, and Bunting line’s had the past month, it will be interesting to see if Keefe leaves the Tavares’ line together and gives them time to work things out. Or, will he try some experimentation to get that line going?

Item Four: The Surprising Timothy Liljegren

In the 11 games since January 15, the highest-scoring defenseman at five-on-five hasn’t been Morgan Rielly. It’s been Timothy Liljegren. In those 11 games, Liljegren has one goal and five assists for six points. He’s also plus six, as he’s been on ice for 14 goals and eight against during that time.

Item Five: Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl Continue to Struggle

The struggles of the Holl/Muzzin pairing have gotten a lot of press for quite a while now. After Holl took a tripping penalty at 6:47 of the third period versus the Kraken that led to Seattle’s second goal, Holl and Muzzin never saw the ice together again the rest of the game.  

Justin Holl Toronto Maple Leafs
Justin Holl, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Keefe pulled the switch with the pairings right after that goal, moving Liljegren with Muzzin, and putting Holl with Sandin. It will be interesting to see what the pairings will be on Thursday when the Maple Leafs are home to the Penguins.  

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

The Maple Leafs get a good test tomorrow night when they meet the Penguins and the last 500-goal score in the NHL Sidney Crosby. What a game that could turn out to be.

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The Maple Leafs have a couple of players in Marner and Matthews who will likely move up the NHL’s echelon of all-time stars. In Crosby, as fans, we’ll be able to see one of the best players in the history of the game. Could be fun.

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]