Maple Leafs expect an offensive boost from the Marner-Tavares reunion

Maple Leafs expect an offensive boost from the Marner-Tavares reunion
It has been only two games since John Tavares returned from a broken finger, but he and Mitch Marner obviously haven’t lost the game-changing chemistry they have shared for much of the last calendar year.

Tavares, who missed seven games, scored the overtime winner against the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday, off a terrific setup from Marner, suggesting the two might be ready to overcome a slow start. Tavares, who scored 47 goals a year ago, had just three before he was sidelined with the finger injury.

The Leafs could certainly use their production. They were sitting out of a playoff spot before winning their last three games and going 4-1-1 in their last six. And while there have been plenty of reasons for the up-and-down start — including Tavares’s absence — they remain a work in progress on a host of fronts: the power play, their play in and getting out of their defensive zone, their ability to play a physical game when necessary, and more.

A return of Tavares and Marner to their 2018-19 glory would be a big boost to Toronto’s offence and possession metrics, and they will get some help when the third member of their line, Zach Hyman, makes his 2019-20 debut, likely next week.

Tavares and Marner formed one of the league’s elite pairings last season. Tavares led the NHL with 33 even-strength goals, while Marner was first with 36 primary assists. They haven’t shown the same consistency this year. Marner has just two goals at even strength, Tavares has three. Marner has 1.2 offensive point shares, compared to a career-high 7.6 a year ago.

But they haven’t had Hyman on their flank yet.

“He is obviously relentless on the forecheck, putting pressure on the opponent,” Tavares told TSN earlier this week in describing Hyman’s strengths. “(It’s) his attention to detail all over the ice and just making the game easier, because he s in the right spots. He makes it tough on the opponent causing a lot of turnovers in all three zones and he s got a good stick around the net, knows how to get open and use his body.

“He just has a good sense of who we are as players and a good sense of his game and what makes him successful.”

The rejuvenation of the Leafs’ top line from last season should relieve some of the offensive pressure that Auston Matthews and his linemates, William Nylander and Andreas Johnsson, might be feeling. Nylander has just one multi-point game this season.

And the Leafs’ return to health — Tavares, Hyman and blueliner Travis Dermott, back for four games — should also help the defence. Toronto has relied on goalie Frederik Andersen to bail out the team too often. The Leafs have the 10th-highest shots against-per-60 figures (30.79), and the 10th-highest goals against-per-60 (2.42). The Leafs have surrendered 35 or more shots in six of their 17 games, and have allowed four or more goals in seven games.
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