Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors: Marner, Samsonov & Line Combos

The Toronto Maple Leafs are fresh off a 4-0-0 road trip. Tonight they meet the San Jose Sharks, who opened their own four-game road trip last night with a 4-0 victory over the Montreal Canadiens. 

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The Maple Leafs will have to avoid a letdown as they return home to face the Sharks tonight. The Sharks are in second-to-last place in the Pacific Division. However, both teams should be just about as tired and weary. 

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The Maple Leafs will play their sixth game in ten days, while the Sharks will be playing their second game of a back-to-back and fly in from Montreal. Last night’s win was just the Sharks’ second in their past seven games (2-4-1). Tonight will be their 12th game in 21 days.

Item One: The Maple Leafs’ Team Defense Is Carrying Them

Like many NHL teams, the Maple Leafs have had a number of injuries. That’s been especially true with the team’s defence. However, the team has coped surprisingly well with injuries to their top defensemen, which include Morgan Rielly’s knee injury, TJ Brodie’s oblique injury, and Jake Muzzin’s neck injury.

Morgan Rielly Toronto Maple Leafs
Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Head coach Sheldon Keefe credits the team’s commitment to playing as a team. Keefe noted that “The team game is making everybody better. There are a lot of teams that deal with a lot of injuries and find a way to win. We’re a good enough team that we’re going to find our way on the right side of it.”

In recent posts, I’ve noted that during the past two games I’ve been watching the Maple Leafs make a ton of little mistakes on the ice. However, the team also seems to be covering for each other really well.

Related: Answering the Maple Leafs Big Questions on Defense

It means that any opposing player(s) who are hoping to get to the Maple Leafs’ goalie must travel through “layers of Leafs” to get there. It’s working.

Item Two: Core Four Through 24

There are few teams with the offensive firepower the Maple Leafs possess. Currently, as the team plays its 25th game tonight, every member of what has been named the Core Four has played in all 24 of the team’s games. As well, each player in the Core 4 has scored more than 25 points.

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Mitch Marner leads the team with seven goals and 21 assists (for 28 points). John Tavares, with 12 goals and 14 assists, has 26 points; as does Auston Matthews, with 11 goals and 15 assists. William Nylander leads the team with 13 goals and has added 12 assists for 25 points. 

Item Three: Mitch Marner Will Be Seeking Tie Franchise Record Tonight

Tonight, Marner could tie the Maple Leafs’ franchise record for consecutive games with a point. He’s now sitting on 17 games, and a point tonight would allow him to tie both Darryl Sittler and Ed Olczyk for the record. Sittler set his record first from January 26 to March 8, 1978. Then, 11 years later, Olczyk tied Sittler when he went on a scoring streak from December 2, 1989, to January 8, 1990). 

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During his 17-game points streak, Marner has six goals and 17 assists. Marner moved the dial forward one when he scored a nifty goal as the Maple Leafs beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-2 on Monday.  

Marner credited his teammates with his success. He noted, “It’s a hard league, man. … Nothing is ever achievable in this game by yourself. It’s always kudos to your teammates. I’m trying to find spots where I can get the puck in my hands to make plays and try to find people in open ice.” (from “Mitch Marner and the Maple Leafs extend their hot streaks with road win over Red Wings, Terry Koshan, Toronto Sun, 28/11/2022).

Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs
Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The truth of his comment was obvious during the Red Wings’ game. During one odd-man rush, Marner simply stopped about 15 feet in front of the Detroit goalie to survey the situation to see what his best options were. While other players were frantically trying to “buzz” around, he was so very patient.

That particular play didn’t work, but you could just see him thinking. As I’ve noted before, he appears to be able to process the game at a very different speed than most players.

Item Four: Forward Line Combinations and Defensive Pairings

Forward Line Combinations

First LineMichael BuntingAuston MatthewsWilliam Nylander
Second LineCalle JarnkrokJohn TavaresMitch Marner
Third LineAlex KerfootPontus HolmbergPierre Engvall
Fourth LineZach Aston-ReeseDavid KampfNick Robertson

Defensive Pairings 

PairingLeft-Side DefensemanRight-Side Defenseman
First PairingMark GiordanoJustin Holl
Second PairingRasmus SandinTimothy Liljegren
Third PairingVictor MeteConor Timmins

Notes: The lines and pairings remain the same except for two changes. Nick Robertson will slot onto the fourth line in place of Denis Malgin. And, tonight will be the first Maple Leafs’ game for right-shot defenseman Conor Timmins. That should be fun to see.

Related: A Blackhawks’ Tribute to Marc-Andre Fleury

Congratulations to Mac Hollowell for his play with the team while he was on the big club’s roster. We’ll see him again soon for sure.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Ilya Samsonov reported yesterday that he was pain-free, and coach Keefe will give him the start tonight against the Sharks. It will be Samsonov’s first game in the net in almost four weeks (he last played on November 5). Over that time, he’s missed 12 games. 

Ilya Samsonov Toronto Maple Leafs
Ilya Samsonov, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Tonight will be the first time almost since the start of the regular season that both top Maple Leafs’ goalies have been healthy at the same time. It’s good to see Samsonov back. That said, you have to think that Matt Murray’s four-game winning streak makes him the team’s first choice in goal.

So far, knock on wood, these two goalies have far surpassed expectations. If this kind of play continues, it will make the Maple Leafs a tough team to beat.