Maple Leafs Need Marner to Have Breakout in Game 7

Tonight’s Game 7 of the first-round playoff series between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Tampa Bay Lightning. It’s been a long time – as Maple Leafs’ fans know – since their team has won a first-round playoff series. 

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On the other side of the ice, it’s been at least two seasons since the two-time in a row Stanley Cup winners have lost a first-round series – let alone any playoff series. They seem to win these days by divine right.

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That divine right is being challenged tonight. The game is simple: the team that scores the most goals wins.

The Scoring from the Core Four

If we look at the top scorers for the Maple Leafs over the first six games of their first-round series versus the Lightning in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, we see they are exactly the players that the Maple Leafs needed to lead this team.

Auston Matthews Mitch Marner Celebrate Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner Celebrate a Goal (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

Auston Matthews is first on the team with four goals and four assists for a total of eight points. William Nylander and Mitch Marner are tied for second with seven points each, with the tiebreaker going to Nylander because of his three goals to Marner’s two. John Tavares is fourth on the team with three goals and three assists for six points, while Morgan Rielly is their top-scoring defenseman with two goals and five points. 

If we break Marner’s scoring down by game, he had a great start to the series scoring a goal and adding two assists in the Maple Leafs’ 5-0 shutout of Tampa in Game 1. He followed that quick start with a goal and an assist in the Maple Leafs’ 5-3 loss to the Lightning. After Game 2, he had registered five points during the first two games.  

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Marner then added an assist in the Maple Leafs’ 5-2 win in Game 3. But, in the three games since he’s registered but a single assist. Marner has gone from scoring five points in the first two games of the series to only scoring two points in the last four games. 

It Isn’t As If Marner Is Playing Poorly, He’s Just Stopped Scoring

It’s not as if Marner is playing badly. According to Naturalstattrick, to this point of the series at five-on-five, he’s been on the ice for 56 percent of the unblocked shots-for (59 for, 46 against), 67 percent of the goals-scored (6 for, 3 against), and 58 percent of the expected-goals. He’s also been one of the Maple Leafs’ best penalty killers and has played the second-most minutes on the penalty kill (with 21:25) to David Kampf (who’s logged 22:07 minutes).

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

In the six games, Marner also has eight hits, seven blocked shots, and six takeaways. But, as many Maple Leafs’ fans will quickly acknowledge, a player of Marner’s stature with the money he earns is expected to produce, and produce when it counts. 

Marner’s Power Play Scoring Drought

Four of Marner’s seven points have come at five-on-five. Two have come on the power play. Marner also has one point on the penalty kill. There’s one interesting statistic. Looking back to earlier this season when it was announced that Marner hadn’t scored a power-play goal in 100 games, while he has eleven power-play assists in 38 playoff games, Marner has yet to score a single power-play goal in the postseason.

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The Maple Leafs need Marner to score more. Of the four games in which Marner has scored in the 2022 playoffs, the Maple Leafs have won three of them.  

If the Maple Leafs are to break the 17-year playoff drought and their 0-8 record in potential series-ending games tonight, having Marner get on the scoreboard is a key. 

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

Even better, having him finally score a power-play goal would go a long way to helping them accomplish that. 

[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.]

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