Maple Leafs’ Marner set to return, but not alongside Matthews

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner speaks about returning to an action after not playing for a month, believes he can play with anyone in the team.

MONTREAL — Mitch Marner is back … but not in his usual spot.

The Toronto Maple Leafs‘ all-star winger is set to return to action Saturday in Montreal after missing 12 games due to a reported ankle injury, yet he will not be skating alongside 70-goals-hunting Auston Matthews on the top line.

“To have those guys on different lines presents some really good options and spreads out our scoring depth really well. So, we’ll give it a look,” coach Sheldon Keefe told reporters after Friday’s practice.

“We’re always going to be a fluid group. It’s just the way our group is.”

For now, Keefe is sticking with the Tyler Bertuzzi–Matthews–Max Domi unit that outscored the opposition 9-6 in Marner’s absence and generated 67.9 per cent of expected goals when thrown over the boards.

Marner will join left wing Bobby McMann on John Tavares’s second line, while William Nylander will be expected to drive Toronto’s less experienced third line, bumping Nick Robertson to the press box.

Because the Maple Leafs are essentially locked into the Atlantic Division’s third seed, Keefe can afford to experiment with his combinations down the stretch.

Marner himself acknowledged that the top line has played “unbelievable” during his recovery. Toronto has gone 7-4-1 during its recent Marner-free stretch.

Keefe cautioned not to read too much into current line combinations, however, as he likes to move his wingers around depending on the situation and to keep the opposition guessing.

TV timeouts and special-teams shifts also play a factor in deployment.

“When the game’s flowing and there’s not a lot of whistles, depth is really important,” Keefe said. “But a lot of the games, especially regular season, are slow. There’s a lot of whistles.

“That’s why people move around.”

Marner stressed that it doesn’t matter who he plays with. His priority is getting up to game speed over these next two weeks to prepare for the postseason.

“Excited,” Marner said. “Just want to get back, get back in the rhythm of things, and try and contribute to help our team win games.”

One-Timers 

Ilya Samsonov was nominated by Toronto’s chapter of hockey writers for the Masterton Trophy … Noah Gregor and Robertson appear to be healthy scratches Saturday … New Leafs signee Jacob Quillan will make his AHL Marlies debut Saturday versus Utica. “Big, strong guy who plays in straight lines. It looks like he has a good knack for the net,” Marlies coach John Gruden told reporters. “It’ll be exciting.”… Timothy Liljegren (upper body) skated solo Friday, and Joel Edmundson participated in his first full practice since going down to injury. Neither will play Saturday … Marner will naturally bump Domi off the top power-play unit…. Can Matthews score seven goals in seven games?

Maple Leafs projected lines Saturday in Montreal

Bertuzzi – Matthews – Domi

McMann – Tavares – Marner

Knies – Holmberg – Nylander

Dewar – Kämpf – Reaves

Rielly – Lyubushkin

Benoit – McCabe

Giordano – Brodie

Samsonov

Woll

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