Maple Leafs Game 3 Notebook: Scrutiny shifts to Marner, pressure to Bruins

Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe praises his team's five-on-five defence through their first two games on the road against the Bruins due to their pressure on the puck at all areas on the ice but is now focusing on defending home ice.

TORONTO — Mitch Marner has been fine through the first 120 minutes of the Toronto Maple LeafsBoston Bruins series.

But the star winger is neither paid nor expected to simply hold his own.

The city wants him to wow, to produce, to make us rewatch that highlight once more.

That hasn’t happened — yet.

Marner hasn’t registered a point in three straight playoff games, dating back to last season’s do-or-die date versus Florida; he’s gone pointless in six of his past eight.

Over the course of his career, the 26-year-old’s post-season production is respectable: 47 points in 52 games, tied with Auston Matthews. (One has more goals, though.)

But with Marner’s worst clips getting isolated and shared, and Matthews dominating (mostly) alongside a new setup man in Max Domi, the spotlight has shifted to No. 16 — on the ice for both goals against Monday.

Sheldon Keefe’s Spidey senses must be tingling; he feels some Marner scrutiny coming.

(And, it has arrived already, most notably via Wednesday’s Toronto Sun cover story and artwork.)

The coach took a reporter’s post-game question about Matthews Monday and decided to heap some praise on Marner as well.

“I loved a lot about our game here tonight, all the way through the lineup,” Keefe said. “This is a night here where Mitch Marner, I thought he’s all over the game too. He’s making plays offensively for us at different times. Great defensive plays. He’s playing almost every shift against [David] Pastrnak and doing a really good job helping us there [and on] the penalty kill.”

Keefe’s plan going into the series was to frequently form a stacked offensive second line of William Nylander, John Tavares, and Marner. But with Nylander mysteriously injured, rookie Matthews Knies has been running the left flank.

“I got no issues with that line. They’re doing a good job. I just watched a bunch of forechecks this morning. Those guys are really working and competing and creating lots of pressure up-ice,” Keefe said Tuesday, choosing the carrot over the stick.

Marner has helped tilt the ice during his three minutes’ of bump-up O-zone shifts alongside Matthews in this series, but the Knies–Tavares–Marner unit ranks last among all Leafs lines in shot-attempt share (43.5 per cent) over its 16 minutes together at 5-on-5.

“Those guys are taking on some tough responsibility playing against Pastrnak and have done a really good job of it,” Keefe explained. “One mistake on the faceoff last night. But aside from that, I’ve liked what we’ve gotten from that line. Each line’s not going to roll each night offensively. Their time will come in the series.”

A standout performance during this week’s homestand, and Marner’s critics go quiet. He’s dynamic enough to break a game himself. 

More doughnuts on the stat sheet, however, and the volume gets cranked.

Series shifts to Toronto, pressure shifts to Boston

By earning a split in Boston and rallying from two deficits inside enemy territory in Game 2, the Maple Leafs have snatched momentum in a series we expect to teetertotter more than once. 

Needing to seize back home ice, it’s now up to the Bruins to respond.

Remember: The B’s are coming off consecutive first-round exits.

Has a seed of doubt been planted, knowing Nylander may still be an option?

“I didn’t think our urgency was where it needed to be,” Jim Montgomery said. “I didn’t think we won enough wall battles to be able to get out of our end successfully.”

The visiting coach is challenging his players to win more battles low in both zones to quicken their exits, pressure Ilya Samsonov’s crease, and create more Grade-A looks.

At five-on-five, the series is tied in scoring (3-3), yet Toronto holds a noticeable edge in scoring chances (58-27) and high-danger chances (25-13), per

“We’re not fast enough. We’re slow in transition,” Montgomery said. “Toronto didn’t give us many odd-man rushes.

“Our goaltenders have been up to the task. Just offensively, it’s just not there.”

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Both sides sound convinced they’re in for a long, tight tilt. 

“This is the way it’s gonna be: It’s gonna be tough. It’s two really good teams. We believe in our group; we know we have a good team. We know what we’re up against here,” Keefe said. 

“They’re one shot, one win away from finishing second overall in the league. And a few weeks ago, we thought they were gonna make a push for the Presidents’ Trophy. I think it’s a really good team that we’ve got a ton of respect for. And they demand a lot of us. I thought our guys were right there with them [in Game 2]. And we’re gonna have to stand in there and keep pushing when we get on home ice.

“We gotta get back home and prepare for their pushback.”

It’s coming.

The Bruins have not performed to their level in either third period, while this edgier version of the Maple Leafs is forechecking with numbers and matching the B’s competitive reputation.

“Just gotta win battles. They’re competing hard,” captain Brad Marchand told reporters. “They’re playing a really good playoff-type game right now. You knew they would. They’re built different than in past years. They’re playing a lot more physical. Very committed to forechecking. Playing very tight defensively. So, you gotta get them credit. They’re one of the top teams for a reason.

“They’re a tough team to play right now, and we’re seeing it. Even in the first game, it was a different game than the [5-1] score. We have to continue to be better.”

The Bert and Brad Show

During his stint as a Bruin last spring, Tyler Bertuzzi learned that Marchand was actually a good guy.

Well, that friendship appears on hold, as Marchand did a fine job selling a retaliatory slash to the back of his knee.

The frenemies engaged in a spirited chat after the Game 2 buzzer. 

Asked what was discussed, Bertuzzi kept things cordial: “It’s between me and Brad.”

One-Timers: No update on Nylander and his undisclosed injury. He remains “a possibility” for Game 3, per Keefe. … With Andrew Peeke leaving Game 2 injured and his status week-to-week, Boston recalled defenceman Mason Lohrei from AHL Providence. Lohrei skated in half of the NHL club’s regular-season games, putting up 13 points. The Bruins could also slot in Parker Wotherspoon. … D-man Derek Forbort (day to day) traveled with the Bruins but will not play Game 3. … Matthew Knies on how to beat Jeremy Swayman, the only undefeated goalie to appear in the series and Wednesday’s expected starter: “Live inside the paint. Kinda make life hell for him around the net.”

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