Maple Leafs’ Marner Can Find Success to Excel in Playoffs

Things were going very well for Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner during the regular season. He matched his previous season point total with 67 points in four fewer games and was on pace for 101 points in an 82-game season.

When the playoffs came, that’s when things took a complete 180 for one of the Maple Leafs’ highest paid players. The Montreal Canadiens made it extremely difficult for either Marner or Auston Matthews to get anything going offensively. 

In the case of Marner, his overall play was nowhere near the expectations that many had hoped for after a dominant regular season. From costly turnovers and even a crucial puck over glass penalty in an important Game 6, things weren’t going well for Marner. He was clearly disappointed with his performance when it was all said and done. 

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

While many are already calling for him to be traded, Marner is still a special player many teams would covet. At only 24, while trading him is an option, general manager Kyle Dubas and the rest of the Maple Leafs brass have complete confidence in the core to turn things around. For Marner, it’s all about going back to what made him successful in the regular season and apply that to the playoffs.

Improve Shooting

It’s no secret that Marner wanted to improve his shot and goal scoring heading into the 2020-21 season. It’s something that he wanted to focus on. You could say mission accomplished, as he was dominant at even strength. However, he didn’t register a single power play goal after recording six the season before and going cold in the playoffs. 

Here’s a look at Marner’s goal scoring throughout his career at five-on-five in the regular and postseason. 

Mitch Marner’s numbers at 5v5 during the regular season.
Mitch Marner’s numbers during the postseason.

A career 11.3 shooting percentage, his 16.50 in 2020-21 was his highest scoring 17 on 103 shots at 5v5. That high of a mark is unsustainable for a playmaker like Marner, but if continues to work on his shooting mechanics, it can definitely benefit him going forward. With Marner, it’s not so much the amount of shots that he gets, but it’s his accuracy, power and decision making that is coming into question. While he scored 20 goals this season, if he had capitalized on a few more chances, he could’ve matched his 26 from 2018-19. It should be noted that his individual Corsi For count was 29, his most in the playoffs. 

His possession numbers were strong as he had a Corsi For percentage of 54.26 and an expected goals for percentage of 66.04. However, there were little results. Looking at his postseason numbers, it’s understandable why fans would be frustrated with his lack of production. Despite early first round exits in the past, Marner showed glimpses of his goal scoring. The last two he’s gone cold, as he hasn’t registered a goal on 29 shots. 

With the London Knights of the OHL, Marrner was known for his deceitful quick hands and scoring in close areas, but his shot– as it was a work in progress– was a strength. He was able to wire it in the back of the net from anywhere on the ice. Even in his rookie year, who can forget about his snipe blocker side on Anton Khudobin for his first career NHL goal? 

Even since that goal, we’ve seen him shoot and take advantage of his opportunities, while also driving to the net before. Why all of a sudden are we seeing that hesitation now, especially in the playoffs?

It’s frustrating when fans yell are yelling at their screen telling him to shoot when he has the perfect chance to. Instead, he elects to pass to try and find Matthews and give up a prime scoring opportunity in order to distribute the puck where it ends up in a broken play or turning it over for an odd man rush. 

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

We know that Marner is a playmaker that always has a pass first mentality on his mind. If he wants to be even more dangerous and not be a predictable target where teams can shut him down easily– as we’ve seen in the playoffs– he’s going to have to work to get his shot back on track as it can be a real game changer for him. He can be more than just a dangerous playmaker.

Playing with Killer Instinct

When looking at TSN’s scouting report for Mitch Marner, it reads, “Raises his level of play in big spots.” 

He had 44 points in 18 playoff games with the Knights in 2015-16, winning the OHL Championship and Memorial Cup. He was a top-three player for Canada at the World Hockey championships in 2016-17 where he recorded 12 points in 10 games winning silver. GOOD****

However, his last two post seasons with the Maple Leafs, he has struggled to show any form of consistency with his play like he has at other events in his career. Marner seemed to waver and panic with the puck when he was getting shut down. He lacked the “killer instinct” as he showed that characteristic all season.

We didn’t see the blazing speed that makes him so dangerous when entering the offensive zone. We didn’t see the kind of puck protection and hard nosed drive to the net like he has done in the past, using his quick hands and puck skills to his advantage and being that major threat in the offensive zone. That dried up in the post season. 

Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner
Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

While disappointing as the playoffs were, Marner has shown that drive and willpower in the past. The Maple Leafs need to get the Marner that would take charge of the game when they need him to and be that difference maker. Like this top 10 of his plays during the 2019-20, every clip showed his killer instinct that the team needs from him–especially at the most important time of the season. 

If he’s able to find that, then the Maple Leafs and Marner will be in a good spot.

Overcoming Tough Outcomes

While many players were disappointed with the outcome, none seemed more distraught at what unfolded than Marner. It was evident during his end of season media availability and he didn’t mince words at what happened during the playoffs. From the puck over the glass, to turning the puck over leading to Brendan Gallagher’s 1-0 goal, Marner was still reeling from the loss.

“What we didn’t accomplish is a pretty s***** feeling,” Marner said according to Sportsnet’s Luke Fox. “Everyone wants to step up and take it upon themselves to be winners. I mean, that’s why it’s so disappointing right now– because we didn’t meet our own expectations.”­

For him to be at his best, Marner– much like every other player on this team– have to take it upon themselves to overcome those tough losses and outcomes. After dealing with many years of failure, they have to come together and exorcise their playoff demons. It’s easier said than done, but the Tampa Bay Lightning have been in this spot before after being left with a sour taste in their mouth in 2019. 

Marner brings the kind of energy that everyone magnetizes towards. His outgoing personality and smile make him a role model for many. It was difficult to see him at the podium. He knows he didn’t play well. He wants to succeed. There’s criticism for his play, but fans have been taking things too far. 

Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews
Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Mitchell Marner and Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

We’ve seen him when he is at his peak, as he can be one of the best players in the league. For him to be at his best, he needs to channel the anger and frustration of failure and use it to his advantage like we’ve seen before. 

This is where it all starts for Marner. This is how he can be a dominant playoff performer like he is in the regular season.

Statistics from Natural Stat Trick.