Maple Leafs’ Mitch Marner on quiet start: ‘Stuff’s going to come’

Mitch Marner and John Tavares are not worrying one bit about their lines' struggles during 5-on-5 play, saying "stay patient, and put the work in," and eventually they're going to find a way.

TORONTO — Mitch Marner, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ second-leading scorer and third-highest paid player, is still looking for his first point of the season at 5-on-5.

So, he’s asked, how soon do you start worrying about your line when it doesn’t seem to be clicking?

"Never," Marner replied, in advance of Tuesday’s visit by the Minnesota Wild.

This is yet one more reminder about the difference between a high-level athlete and the rest of the population. Where a fan or media member might sound the alarm at Marner’s 1.35 points per 60 even-strength minutes to start the season — down sharply from his impressive rate of 3.23 a year ago — the man himself sails on as though passing through clear skies.

The Leafs have only played six games, nowhere near enough to be considered a trend. The next chance to break out comes with back-to-back games against the Wild and Washington Capitals.

"Just stay patient with it, stuff’s going to come," said Marner. "There’s no worry on our line or on our team."

It helps to have a supporting cast that includes a second No. 1 line featuring Auston Matthews, not to mention a bottom-six forward group producing beyond anyone’s expectations in the early going.

It also helps to be as talented as Marner is. He’s produced goals and assists at an exceptional rate since first picking up a hockey stick.

"There’s always a strong belief, especially when you’ve done it over and over," said John Tavares, his similarly snake-bitten centre.

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Marner and Tavares found instant chemistry on a line last season and were two of the NHL’s most productive even-strength players. Marner finished with 70 points — one ahead of a group that included Sidney Crosby, Artemi Panarin and Tavares.

They have started this year without left-winger Zach Hyman, who is still recovering from knee surgery. The fit with Kasperi Kapanen hasn’t been quite as seamless and no doubt has contributed to their slow jump out of the blocks.

But when the NHL’s highest-paid duo reviews video of their shifts, they also see a little too much perimeter play. Not enough high-danger looks from the middle of the ice. Marner says they’ve been working on doing a better job of cycling the puck out of the corner and getting it to the scoring area while playing in the offensive zone.

"I thought we did better last game," said Marner.

"I think we can continue to build there," added Tavares.

It’s not as if they’ve been bad.

They just haven’t dominated anywhere close to the degree they did a year ago.

Marner still has six points — on pace for 82 — while Tavares has five thanks to some production on the power play.

"It’s early in the year," said head coach Mike Babcock. "The way I always look at it is sometimes you get off to a real hot start and then you fade a little bit, and sometimes you don’t get started the way you want numbers-wise and it’s still going your way [by the end of the season].

"I think the biggest thing is you just be patient and you work. As a good pro, you come in and you do your work each and every day and it’s great when everything goes good and you don’t have to think about nothing.

"Sometimes when it doesn’t go as good you’ve got to dig in a little bit more. But steady on the rudder, just keep going, and you’ll find your way."

That this has even become a talking point is a testament to the expectations for Marner and Tavares, not to mention the rest of the Leafs. The team is off to a ho-hum 3-2-1 start. The stars could use some more shine.

Down the hall at Scotiabank Arena, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau would love to have "problems" like these.

"They’re both great. They’re going to click," he said of the Marner-Tavares duo. "I mean it’s just a matter of time. I just hope it starts next week."

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