Pressure on Marner to be a “driver” for the Maple Leafs with questionable playoffs


TORONTO – Don’t check your mentions.

If your name is Mitchell Marner, this advice came in handy last August when he was engaged in tense contract negotiations – and it might be best heeded it again.

With good paychecks comes great responsibility. And, perhaps, even closer scrutiny.

Leafs Nation loves a whipped boy.

So, in losing 2-0 to the stingy Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday – a game played tighter than safety around the Royal York, and one that could have gone either way – forever frustrated Toronto fans looked for scapegoats.

Auston Matthews was the busiest and most dangerous Leaf on the ice, so he was in the clear.

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Some have chosen Frederik Andersen, who has made all but one saves and is once again on course to be the second-best goalkeeper in a playoff set. Others piled on an easy punching bag like Cody This, whose pair with Morgan Rielly collapsed to 28% CF in 14 minutes of even-matched action.

But many of the more vicious voices have turned to the ineffective Marner, who has failed to record a shot on the net or create one of the magics that have earned him $ 16 million this season.

Toronto’s newly formed second line Ilya Mikheyev – John Tavares – Marner has been the buzz of the reset camp and, in this series, has the perceived advantage of avoiding Columbus’ dreaded Zach Werenski – Seth Jones combo, without doubt the best defensive duo in sport.

Yet despite over 20 minutes of ice and some positive attacking zone changes early in game one, Marner and Tavares never built on that jump and each finished minus-2 with barely a top scoring chance. to lose sleep.

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“They have a tough game there too, right? (Vladislav) Gavrikov and (David) Savard are tough defenders all the same, ”Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said, shielding his big guns from criticism.

“It’s a tough game for them. We need to get a little more from them, but we need more from everyone. ”

The MO of the Jackets consists of cluttering the intermediate ice and eliminating lanes like traffic cones. They were instructed not to fall prey to Marner’s talent for pulling defenders towards him and then creating opportunities in that empty space.

Thus, it behooves Marner and Tavares to dismantle John Tortorella’s system or fight through it. That’s the costly bet GM Kyle Dubas has made here.

To be clear, an invisible game doesn’t mean Marner is a player who houdinis when the going gets tough.

In fact, since Marner jumped to the series, no Maple Leafs member has more points (17), evenly matched points (10) or winning goals (two) in the postseason.

But this week’s show is shorter than Nathan Gerbe’s in dress shoes.

Long ago, when the NHL had the best of five playoffs, the team that won Game 1 eliminated their opponent 82 percent of the time.

Marner and the Leafs need to pull more penalties, create more paths to hit and bring the sweet sounds of Hall & Oates back to the Scotiabank Arena.

“We’ll take a closer look and find ways to capitalize a bit more on our opportunities,” Keefe said.

Marner must be a central figure in these efforts.

“I’m just trying to get the rhythm of it as fast as possible,” said Marner.

Whether it was last fall’s contract brawl, November’s ankle injury, or a rotating set of linemates, the consistency of Marner’s performance hasn’t hit the high bar. from 2018-19.

“Despite that, Mitch has had a great year,” Dubas said from the bubble. “What I’ve seen from Mitch has been – especially in the last few months since the lockdown began – just the great ability for him to continue to take more and more ownership of his career.

“He still has that gregarious and contagious way of himself that brings great energy to the rink. And now you’re starting to see that shift from a childish kind of energy and enthusiasm to a really mature maturity, and he’s still the same in terms of the spirit that he brings to the rink every day.

Absolutely, Columbus’ diligence is a major reason for Marner’s ineffectiveness for 60 minutes. The time of Scrimmage is over.

As is the case with Andersen or Tavares, Nylander or Rielly, a single leaf shouldn’t absorb all the blame.

And yet, for this core, this is the fourth playoff attempt.

Toronto must now win three of four. To do that, Marner has to be one of those up to the challenge, no matter how difficult the match.

“He’s at the end of his fourth year in the league and [there’s] just a greater sense of urgency in realizing that they’re a really good team, ”Dubas said.

“And if we want to go from very good to excellent, he will have to be one of the drivers.


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