Mitch Marner

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Laying it on the lines: Maple Leafs rolling after adjustments

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

It’s kind of crazy how a little tinkering can completely change the complexion of an offense.

On Jan. 23, the Toronto Maple Leafs were stuck in a rut. For the better part of the past month-and-a-half, dating back to Dec. 12, they’d essentially spun their tires.

With a 6-7-3 record during that 16-game span, something needed to change, even if they were still sitting comfortably in third place in the Atlantic Division.

Still, limping into the playoffs wouldn’t be ideal for Mike Babcock, so he did what he’s done best over his long tenure as an NHL bench boss: he adjusted.

Gone were the lines that weren’t working and in came something to experiment with.

Mitch Marner moved up to the second line. Leo Komarov dropped down to the fourth. Gone was Frederik Gauthier, who went from the fourth line to the minors. Matt Martin took a seat in the press box. And the Leafs brought up 21-year-old prospect Kasperi Kapanen, who put up good numbers in the American Hockey League.

The result looked like this:

Zach HymanAuston MatthewsWilliam Nylander

Patrick MarleauNazem Kadri – Mitchell Marner

James van RiemsdykTyler BozakConnor Brown

Leo Komarov – Dominic Moore – Kasperi Kapanen

Babcock must be quite the alchemist. His concoction has proven effective. Really effective.

Kadri and Marner have benefitted most. The former had two points in his previous 20 games before welcoming Marner on his right wing. Kadri, during the team’s 9-1-0 run as of late, now has seven goals and 15 points (including a hat trick and a five-point night on Wednesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets in a 6-3 win).

Marner had just one goal in his previous 11 games before linking up with Kadri and Marleau. Since then, he has seven goals and 13 points.

Even Kapanen is getting in on the fun. He’s got two goals and three assists in that span playing a less offensive role on the team’s fourth line.

Babcock wanted balance, and he got it.

The Leafs, for all their offensive successes during this stretch — they’ve scored 43 goals during their past 10 games — could give Frederik Andersen a bit of a break.

Andersen is seeing a lot of rubber. In Wednesday’s win, Andersen saw 19 shots come his way in the first period and another 22 in the second. The barrage continued in the third with a further 16. Yes, the quick math says 57 total shots. The man made 54 saves.

Wednesday’s result could have been much different if not for Andersen’s heroics.

In four of the past 10 games, the Leafs have surrendered 40 or more shots.

As good as Andersen has been for the Leafs, that isn’t sustainable.

The good news for the Leafs and their fans is that Andersen is in the top-five among starters (minimum 1,500 minutes played) when it comes to goals saved above average, one of the better goalie metrics to judge how good a puck-stopper is.

Andersen is also sixth in adjusted save percentage, which takes into account shot location when determining a goalie’s save percentage, taking the traditional metric one step further.

It’s all working right now for Toronto. And within their reach is the top spot in the Atlantic Division. The Leafs are just four points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Buzzer: Marner’s five-point night; Dubnyk shuts the door on 44

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang

Players of the Night:

Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs: Mathew Barzal has been logging all the five-point nights this year, but Marner became the latest to do it, scoring twice and adding three helpers in Saturday’s 6-3 win against the Ottawa Senators.

Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild: Dubnyk stopped a season-high 44 pieces of rubber sent his way to help the Wild blank the Chicago Blackhawks 3-0.

Joakim Ryan, San Jose Sharks: Ryan came into Saturday’s game with 45 games under his belt in the NHL and seven assists to show for it. He left Saturday’s 6-4 win against the Edmonton Oilers with his first NHL goal, his second NHL goal and a his first-game-winning goal. Quite the night.

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning: He didn’t have a shutout. In fact, he allowed three goals in a winning effort. But holy moly did he produce of the greatest saves of all-time, as you will see below.

Highlights of the Night:

This save should come with a warning label, MA, 18+, etc.:

Great pass, great goal:

Bar down.

Well-deserved:

Factoids of the Night:

Wild rolling at home:

More Marner:

MISC:

Scores:

Sabres 4, Bruins 2

Maple Leafs 6, Senators 3

Predators 3, Canadiens 2 (SO)

Lightning 4, Kings 3

Blue Jackets 6, Devils 1

Hurricanes 3, Avalanche 1

Wild 3, Blackhawks 0

Flyers 4, Coyotes 3 (SO)

Sharks 6, Oilers 4


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Patrick Marleau is ice cold in 2018

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When the Toronto Maple Leafs signed Patrick Marleau to a three-year, $18.75 million contract, even many of the deal’s proponents admitted that the team will probably wiggle out of that last year, somehow.

(Some of the arguments made sense, although the gymnastics could get a little tricky, as you can see from this Leafs Nation write-up by Ian Tulloch detailing a hypothetical future “trade.”)

Marleau probably made those proponents feel pretty great out of the gate, scoring two goals in his Leafs debut and five points in his first five games.

Things haven’t been going so well for Marleau lately, however; in fact, you could probably split his first Toronto season between “quite good” (24 points in 40 games from October through December) and “troubling” (two goals, zero assists in 15 games in 2018).

This lack of production isn’t due to poor opportunities, either.

So far in 2018, Marleau ranks third among Maple Leafs forwards in average ice time with 17:20 per game, including a few more seconds of power-play time per game than Auston Matthews. He’s not killing a ton of penalties (about 30 seconds per game) and is skating with some nice linemates, most often Nazem Kadri and Mitch Marner as of late, according to Left Wing Lock.

Marleau’s usage is far from the only thing one could question about Mike Babcock’s deployment decisions, mind you, although he might be another example of a veteran player getting too many reps:

It makes you wonder if the Maple Leafs already regret the Marleau deal.

Really, that debate isn’t as important as a different one: when the playoffs roll around, will Babcock be willing to bump Marleau down in the lineup (or even make him a healthy scratch) if he remains ineffective?

Babcock has made waves by handing similar demotions to the likes of Marner, which can understandably be seen in part as “sending a message.”

A struggling Marleau (or Komarov, or other veterans) could stand in the way of a hungry, younger player who might be able to provide more of a boost. Players like Josh Leivo and Kasperi Kapanen must be growing antsy from a lack of opportunities, especially when Marleau is providing almost as many inspirational speeches as goals so far in 2018.

It’s easy to picture Marleau snapping out of this funk, and it’s not as though he’s the only Maple Leafs player who is struggling lately. Still, at 38, there’s also the chance that his tank is already approaching empty.

That’s a sad thought for a guy who wouldn’t be out of place in the Hockey Hall of Fame, yet the Maple Leafs must prioritize the present – not to mention the future – more than the past if they want to be a real threat in the playoffs.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

McAvoy suffers own goal in return; Bruins win anyway

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It’s unclear if sensational Boston Bruins rookie defenseman Charlie McAvoy needed to be humbled, but if so, the past couple weeks might have done the trick.

Few things can put things in perspective quite like the heart issues that sidelined McAvoy. Failing that, the Bruins won three of the four games McAvoy missed.

Saturday’s return to the lineup brought the most humbling moment, as Mitch Marner was credited for a tally after McAvoy’s unfortunate own-goal:

On the bright side, that wasn’t “Kris Russell bad.” Still, not the ideal way for McAvoy to celebrate getting back in the Bruins’ lineup. Chances are, he’ll bounce back — and then some.

Update: McAvoy should be able to sleep well tonight, aside from maybe some guilt about robbing Tuukka Rask of a shutout? The Bruins beat the Maple Leafs 4-1 in what could be a preview for a first-round series.

Rask provided a ridiculous save in this one:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Toronto Maple Leafs at Chicago Blackhawks

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Wednesday as the Chicago Blackhawks host the Toronto Maple Leafs at 8 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here.

PROJECTED LINES

Blackhawks
Brandon SaadJonathan ToewsAnthony Duclair
Patrick SharpNick SchmaltzPatrick Kane
Alex DeBrincatArtem AnisimovRyan Hartman
Tomas Jurco – David Kampf – Vinnie Hinostroza

Duncan KeithJordan Oesterle
Michal KempnyConnor Murphy
Erik Gustafsson – Brent Seabrook

Starting goalie: Jeff Glass

[NHL on NBCSN: Struggling Maple Leafs take on slumping Blackhawks]

Maple Leafs
Zach HymanAuston MatthewsWilliam Nylander
Patrick MarleauNazem KadriMitch Marner
James van RiemsdykTyler BozakConnor Brown
Leo KomarovDominic Moore – Kasperi Kapanen

Jake GardinerRon Hainsey
Travis Dermott – Connor Carrick
Andreas BorgmanRoman Polak

Starting goalie: Frederik Andersen

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE