RALEIGH, NC – Mitch Marner is pointless in his last five games. Auston Matthews has not scored in the three games he has played.
Maple Leafs stars know it’s not good enough.
“We’ve played well defensively, but obviously everyone wants us to produce,” Marner said. “We need to produce to help our team, and for us right now we are not doing that … I’ve been through stages like this before. Is going to end “.
Yes, depressions do happen. But it’s highly unusual for those two, after a season in which Marner finished fourth in the NHL in points and Matthews was the league’s top goal scorer.
It’s also an unfortunate moment, as the Leafs hope to quickly put a disappointing finish to the 2021 playoffs behind them. Instead, the drops have reminded his fanbase that neither player produced when he imported for seven games in May against Montreal.
A three-game losing streak (two in regulation, one in overtime) capped by an embarrassing 7-1 loss at Pittsburgh on Saturday night has left the team 2-3-1. They are below .500 in point percentage for the first time in two seasons since coach Mike Babcock was fired and replaced by Sheldon Keefe.
It’s been 23 months since the Leafs lost 6-1 at Pittsburgh, then 4-2 at Las Vegas to fall to 9-10-4. The coaching change that followed was credited with turning the Leafs’ fortunes around in the regular season. Keefe was more of a players coach, a communicator. He let Marner play with Matthews and the Leaf Nation rejoiced. It was more in tune with the style GM Kyle Dubas wanted.
Now, nearly two years later, the Leafs are back in the same place: struggling to score, giving silly gifts, too casual on the puck. They have yet to impose their will on any opponent.
Things are looking bleak.
The key players lost in free agency, namely forward Zach Hyman (Edmonton) and goalkeeper Frederik Andersen (Carolina), are thriving elsewhere.
- With the Oilers, Hyman has more goals (five) than Matthews, Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander combined.
- Andersen, who will face the Leafs on Monday in Raleigh, has put last season’s injury woes behind him, going 4-0-0 with a .944 save percentage and 1.75 goal scoring average in against with the Hurricanes.
The players the Leafs brought in as replacements, meanwhile, are struggling to find their way.
- Forward Nick Ritchie, with a two-year contract with a salary cap of $ 2.5 million (US), looks like he will be skating on the fourth row.
- Goalkeeper Petr Mrázek, on a three-year contract with a salary cap of $ 3.8 million, suffered a groin injury on his season debut and travels with the team, but has not played since.
That’s $ 6.3 million combined for Ritchie and Mrázek, more than the Oilers are paying Hyman ($ 5.5 million).
But the Leafs’ problems start at the top. His best players are not producing at the rate they are used to.
“We have looked very good,” said Marner, excluded since he received an assist in the first game of the season. “I just have to make sure that we are surfing the net. Be patient, keep working, try to get the pucks back in that offensive zone and work our cycle game, and work our chemistry. “
They believe they have the solution, although the answers are not what Leaf Nation would like to hear.
Dubas is fully involved in this analytics-driven team, for better or worse, and the analytics department tells them that they are doing almost everything right. Their expected goals metric and high-hazard shooting spreads suggest that they should be winning more than they are losing. So the difficult thing is to keep believing in themselves, staying the course, even if the mostly negative results corrode them.
Don’t worry about the goals, says captain John Tavares. Worry about playing the right way.
“When you concede 12 goals in two games (in losses to San Jose and Pittsburgh), you know, we could have scored four or five, but it wouldn’t have mattered,” the Leafs center said.
“So first we have to take care of the defensive areas. And I think the type of players that we are and the skill sets that we have, you just keep working on that, you do the right things and you play a strong game. And play trusting and believing in yourself. I think history will tell us that eventually you are going to break through and find a way. “
Marner, perhaps more than Matthews, who is coming off wrist surgery, has been the target of fans’ ire. But he is not showing it.
“From the way he approaches the game and his teammates, the way he talks on the bench and the energy that he has, I think he’s doing a really good job of staying focused on the things that he can control,” he said. Keefe. .
“(He’s) trying to get his game going and to continue to be a leader for the team, so it’s been a very positive thing. But he is a guy who has produced a lot and has the ability to produce a lot, and he sets high expectations. Therefore, it would be natural for him to be looking for true solutions.
“But he’s not the only one on our team who has to find his game.”
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