In a strategic move to shake up the game dynamics, the Toronto Maple Leafs have rearranged their lineup, separating leading players Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner for the first time this season. The decision comes as an attempt to restore vigor to the team's performance following a period of inconsistency. At Monday's practice, Marner was seen paired with John Tavares and Tyler Bertuzzi, while William Nylander moved up to join Matthews and Matthew Knies on the top line.
Addressing the Inconsistencies
Recent matches have seen the Leafs squandering leads against formidable opponents like the Chicago Blackhawks and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Head coach Sheldon Keefe has been hesitant to disrupt the Tavares group, particularly considering Nylander's recent form. However, he believes the time is now ripe for a shakeup.
Despite showcasing moments of brilliance this season, including Matthews' three hat tricks and Marner's four-point games, both players have been in a scoring slump. Matthews hasn't had a 5 on 5 goal in the last seven games, and Marner has been off the scoresheet in five of the last seven games.
Shuffling the Top Six
Following a lackluster performance against the Detroit Red Wings in November, Keefe had challenged Matthews and Marner to improve, which had led to a temporary boost in performance. However, Nylander's 17-game point streak ended in Chicago, and he also failed to score in Pittsburgh, contributing to the decision to shuffle the top six. A similar decision to separate Matthews and Marner last November had resulted in a positive run, encouraging Keefe to replicate the strategy.
Optimism Amid Challenges
Last season's Selke Trophy nominee, Marner, has acknowledged his need for improvement. He intends to focus on his pace of play and trust in his abilities. The Leafs have been outscored 15-14 with Marner on the ice in 5 on 5 play this season, a decline from last year's plus 25 in the same scenario. Despite this, Marner has 20 points through 19 games, putting him on pace for an 86-point season, compared to his career-best 99 points last year. As the Toronto Maple Leafs face the Panthers, the lineup change aims to address their early-season challenges and revitalize the team's offense.