The bottom line for the Toronto Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe this. Goals or no goals, his Maple Leafs’ duo of Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews is playing great hockey. Sometimes the score sheet doesn’t show everything.
The plain truth is that the Maple Leafs’ Matthews, who won the Rocket Richard Trophy by scoring 41 goals during the regular season, and Marner, who came in fourth in NHL scoring with 67 points, are not dominating during the postseason playoffs. That is, at least they’re not dominating according to the score sheet.
Give the Canadiens Credit for Covering the Duo Well
Some of that credit must be given to the Montreal Canadiens, the Maple Leafs’ first-round opponent. They’ve presented a problem Matthews and Marner need to figure out. They’re just not getting the open looks they’ve had during the regular season; and, as a result, the duo’s shooting percentage has suffered.
Matthews has sent 25 shots at Canadiens’ goalie Carey Price, but he’s only scored once. That’s a shooting percentage of four percent, when his shooting percentage during the regular season was 18.5. Marner has sent 14 shots on net without a goal. His shooting percentage during the regular season was 12.8. As Maple Leafs’ super fan Stan Smith noted to me, the Canadiens’ strategy seems to be that, when Marner has the puck, they are blanketing Matthews heavily, which forces Marner to shoot.
Matthews has only scored points in two playoffs games. During a dominating Game 2, he scored a goal and two assists. Then, in the Canadiens 4-3 overtime victory on Thursday night, Matthews recorded an assist. Marner has scored four assists in his five postseason games.
Maple Leafs’ Fans Are Used to Much More Scoring from Matthews and Marner
Although a two-point game from both Matthews and Marner would put them at the point-a-game pace, which is a measuring stick for strong scoring, interestingly it seems like a far cry from what’s been expected. Should Maple Leafs’ fans be concerned?
During a recent interview, head coach Sheldon Keefe spoke about just that issue. Although he, like everyone else cheering on the Maple Leafs, would like to see the dynamic duo score more goals, Keefe doesn’t think it’s been a big deal thus far.
Keefe suggests that, even if they aren’t scoring as people expect, Matthews and Marner are doing many other things well. In fact, he’s happy with how the team’s “big guns” have played despite their lack of goal production. He believes Matthews and Marner have handled the situation and the pressure well and suggests that, although he fully understands why people do it, you shouldn’t simply look at goal production as the measuring stick when evaluating quality of play or value to the team.
Keefe noted that, when Matthews and Marner are on the ice, “a number of really positive things are happening for them.” He’s clear that, when goals produced are weighed against goals surrendered, Matthews and Marner “haven’t given up anything despite playing the most minutes.”
And that’s Keefe’s key. Matthews and Marner are surrendering nothing and pointed out that actual production is the measuring stick the team uses. He rhetorically asks, if a player scores five or six goals but also gives up five or six goals, has he really helped the team?
In the video, Keefe notes: “These guys haven’t given up anything. They play the most minutes, despite spending a lot of a lot of time against really good players and really good matchups. They also take face-offs in their own end, which a lot of top lines don’t necessarily do.”
Keefe’s Plan for Matthews and Marner in Game 6
Keefe has nothing but praise for his twosome. He believes they’ve taken on a lot and have played well. He sort of shrugs off their lack of scoring with the attitude that “It’s just a matter of time. If they keep getting those chances, they’re going to fall in.”
However, Keefe does seem to have a plan: “We’d like to find a way to get Austin some cleaner looks at the net.” Keefe agreed that “Austin hasn’t been able to get as many clean looks at the same time he’s drawing a lot of attention and focus there.” He’s being blanketed.
Keefe notes that moving the lines around is something the team has looked; however, he hints that it won’t happen. The bottom line seems to be that, because Matthews and Marner are playing well, they’ll likely stay just where they are. As Keefe hints, scoring is just a matter of time.
Today, Sportsnet’s Luke Fox wrote about a similar topic to the one I have chosen. His title was “Are the Leafs’ Matthews, Marner due for a monster Game 6?” That’s my expectation as well.
I’d be surprised if Matthews and Marner were shutout again in this deciding game.