Matthews, Marner on track to write different story
If Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner keep their standard through two games, the noise won't centre around them if the Leafs fail to get by the Lightning in Round 1.
JUSTIN CUTHBERT: OK. Let's go Leafs and Lightning. A series which has been defined so far and most representative of the fact that it seems like there's a crackdown or a concerted effort to call more penalties. There's been a ridiculous amount of minor penalties called in this game. There's been, it seems as much 5 on 4 play as there's been 5 on 5 play.
And I think after game two, it's pretty safe to say that the Lightning have adjusted a little bit faster than Toronto to these conditions. The Leafs were propelled forward by the results of special teams in game one. We saw Mitch Marner and David Kampf just starring shorthanded and stymieing Tampa across a five-minute power play that they got after Kyle Clifford was ejected within the first few shifts.
They were so good from a shorthanded standpoint that it really set the tone for that game. But taking penalties is not a repeatable strategy against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning scored three times on the power play in game two. They had multiple opportunities with the man advantage. In all three periods, there were just awful penalties taken at all times for the Maple Leafs in game two. And it's probably the main reason why they lost.
But big picture, though, the biggest plus for Toronto is also its biggest concern. Matthews and Marner have been sensational, like they have been all season. They took so much heat for last year's playoffs after being shut down by [INAUDIBLE].
And both this season have been, and returned to being, nothing short of sensational. They produced two even strength goals in each game. They've had a different lineup in each-- or a different linemate in both of those games. Matthews hasn't been scored on. He has a personal 5-0 on-ice goal differential at all strengths.
Marner has been on the ice for seven of the eight goals that Toronto has produced so far in the series. But while there's great things following them around, nothing is happening after them beyond strong shorthanded play in game one, really. And a lot of people have to wear this. A lot of players have to wear this. Not necessarily defense corps, but the bottom nine, but John Tavares has to wear this, first and foremost.
He's been lost so far in this series sort of in the shuffle. Like, he gets out on the ice. There's some skating through the neutral zone, little opportunity with the puck. And then it's back to the bench.
He has two even strength shots so far through two games. 0.1 expected goals individually at 5 on 5. He hasn't been scored on yet, which I guess is a positive. You don't want to be losing John Tavares minutes.
But a wash is not good enough for an $11 million forward. This is a fast and physical series that he is having trouble getting involved in. And really the only compliment you could pay him is that he's one draws at a really high rate on the power play, creating possessions for what has been an important part of earning a split so far.
But possession on the power play and establishing that is not enough from John Tavares. He, like Pierre Engvall, Ilya Mikheyev, William Nylander, these guys have to give more. The Leafs cannot be a one-line team and expect to get past the Tampa Bay Lightning. You can't have passengers and beat the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions.
The Leafs are desperate to change the story. And the story will change as of right now. It is on that trajectory where it will change.
But the only change right now that's guaranteed, or at least it seems, is that Matthews and Marner won't be it. It won't be what they didn't do. It will be what didn't happen beneath that superstar tandem that let the Leafs down if they wind up losing the series. There is more that Tavares and everyone else have to provide if this team is going to use those superstar contributions from Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner to knock off the champions and go on a long postseason run.