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  • Mitchell Kozack

The Toronto Maple Leafs: Best, Worst, and In-between after four games.

The Best Leaf

Mitch Marner has been the best Maple Leaf through the first four games of this series. Marner has managed to record two goals and four assists in four games, which is a similar point pace to his regular season numbers.

Marner started the series by shaking off the ghosts of the Montreal Canadians 2020-2021 series, where Marner only had four assists and no goals in the seven-game series. Marner tallied three quarters of the production he had against Montreal in one game where he scored one goal and two assists in the 5-0 series opener against Tampa Bay.

Although Marner’s offensive production diminished during games three and four, which were played in Tampa Bay, there is a chance this may be the result of the Lightning having the final change. Despite this resulting in Marner having harder matchups he was still able to get an important assist in the game opening goal when he assisted on a Morgan Rielly power-play goal in game three.

Mitch Marner has been effective in all the ways the Maple Leafs needed him to be if they want to win this series all while only being three points away from matching his playoff career high of nine points, which was set against the Boston Bruins during the 2017-2018 series.

The Worst Leaf

John Tavares has been the worst Leaf of the series so far. There have been other Leafs players that have played generally worse than Tavares, but for the level of production the Maple Leafs have been expecting and needing from him in this series he has been the worst Leaf in my opinion.

John Tavares has only had two assists in the first four games against the Tampa Bay Lightning. His first assist came in game one as a secondary assist on a five-on-three power-play goal from Auston Matthews and the second point came in game four in the form of an impressive primary assist on William Nylander’s second goal of the game. Tavares is also on pace for his least amount of shot attempts in a playoff series in his career after only having seven shots in the first four games. To compare, his lowest number of shot attempts in one series since the 2014-2015 playoff series with the New York Islanders, a series where Tavares had six points in seven games.

The primary assist in game four will hopefully give Tavares some confidence going into game five at home, where the Tavares line will hopefully find themselves in situations with a favourable matchup. Tavares hasn’t played at the level the Maple Leafs need him to be at if the Maple Leafs expect to win a series against the back-to-back reigning Stanley Cup Champions.

Who We Want More from?

If the Toronto Maple Leafs want to win this series against Tampa Bay they’re going to need more from Auston Matthews. Linemates Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews have the exact same scoring statistics as each other after four games played (2 goals, 4 assists), but if the Leafs want to win this series Auston Matthews needs to score more goals.

Matthews is a two-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner, the first player since Steven Stamkos during the 2011-2012 season to score sixty goals, and scored fifty goals in a span of fifty games this season. Matthews netted two goals in the series opener, but only has a shooting percentage of 13.3% during this series. Auston Matthews’ shooting percentage during the regular season was 17.2% and his lowest career shooting percentage was 14.3% in his rookie season. Part of this decrease in shooting percentage has to do with Matthews not having as many opportunities to touch the puck due to the high number of penalties that the Maple Leafs have taken through the first four games.

Matthews has not been bad in this series at all, and overall, he has played well, but Maple Leafs management, coaching, and the fans want to see Auston Matthews be the best and most dominant player on the ice every single game, which is possible for a player of his calibre.

The Surprise

Jake Muzzin has been the biggest surprise for the Leafs so far during this series. After a regular season filled with injuries, defensive woes and unfavourable passing numbers, Muzzin has had a bounce back series in the first four games against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Defensively, Muzzin has been one of the most important players on the Maple Leafs back end during this series and has a higher percentage of blocked shots and hits per game than his 2021-2022 regular season statistics. Jake Muzzin is also tied for the team lead in playoff goals with his two slapshot goals from the point. He also recorded an important primary assist, after corralling a rebound, on Mitch Marner’s goal in game two of the series.

Jake Muzzin has exceeded the level that was expected of him before the series began, while also playing against Tampa Bay’s top two lines for a lot of his ice time. Overall, Muzzin’s play has been surprising, but Maple Leafs fans also knew Muzzin still had that high defensive and offensive talent in him if he could get healthy.

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