Folks, it’s been a long time coming.
Being a fan of the 2017-18 Toronto Maple Leafs has been a test in patience of a different kind. It’s been a test not in waiting for the team to bottom out and piece together a better team, but rather a test in waiting for the team that’s been here on paper to show up on the ice.
Part of this has come as a result of personnel choices and sub-optimal lineup decisions. The thought pieces on Mike Babcock’s misuse of Leo Komarov or his overplaying of Roman Polak are plenty, and were easy scapegoats during frustrating stretches where the team just didn’t seem to show up.
However, despite many fans’ aversions to admitting it, some of the blame for the Leafs’ frustrating stretches through the first half of the season has to fall on the fact that the Big Three — the trio of Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner — were unable to find any collective mojo or momentum. Whether it was Matthews being sidelined off and on with various ailments or Mitch Marner scoring a single goal through the season’s first 18 games, it was proving difficult for Leafs faithful to point to the Leafs’ star threat as a testament to their depth.
At long last, however, we’ve seen the true might of the Big Three on full display at once.
Need any proof? Take a look at their production over the past five games — a 4-1-0 stretch that’s seen the Leafs knock off Stanley Cup favorites like the Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning:
Sure, this stretch was headlined by an ugly game that saw the Leafs get kicked around by the Boston Bruins, but the wonder in all of this lies in the fact that this five-game stretch is still the Big Three’s most productive this season by a country mile. Their collective 22 points represent their strongest showing in any rolling five-game stretch all season. The runner-up? The stretch of games between December 19th against Carolina and December 29th in Colorado, wherein the three combined for 15 points. The caveat here is that Auston Matthews missed the first two of those games due to injury, but that’s still a seven-point disparity between their current stretch and their next best on the season.
The Resurgence of Mitch Marner
Marleau to Kadri to Marleau to Marner and the Leafs are up 3-0 in the first period. Mitch’s second goal of the game. Craig Anderson’s night is done. pic.twitter.com/0cbo3BXY5P
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) February 11, 2018
The reasons to smile run deeper still, though. After an infuriatingly snakebitten start to the season, Mitch Marner’s hilariously low shooting percentage has begun to regress back to normal. And yet he is still shooting at just an 8.9% on the season, almost two full percentage points below the 10.8% clip he managed during his impressive rookie campaign.
Mitch shooting more has helped a lot, no doubt. But so has the addition of his new linemates in Patrick Marleau and Nazem Kadri.
The Leafs are on an 8-1-0 tear since Mitch Marner broke up with Tyler Bozak and JVR in favor of greener pastures. Six of his twelve goals on the season have come during this most recent nine-game stretch, and yet he’s still only shooting at a 13.25% clip over that span — likely unsustainable, but not by much.
Marner’s influence has not been lost on Nazem Kadri either. The resurgence has run both ways, with Kadri putting up ten points in the nine games since the duo was put into effect. He had just two in his previous nineteen.
Giving And Receiving
What’s perhaps most impressive about the duo of Auston Matthews and William Nylander is how evenly they’ve shared the love during this stretch.
Matthews has put up three goals and four assists during this stretch, while Nylander sits at the opposite end with four goals and three helpers. Nylander has assisted on two of Matthews’ three goals, while Auston contributed to two of William’s four.
Auston Matthews and William Nylander forever. pic.twitter.com/SbkUNInbVD
— Flintor (@TheFlintor) February 13, 2018
The beautiful plays are piling up, and I’m not sure anyone is complaining.
A Multi-Line Threat
With the Big Three turning it on at once, the Leafs are finally able to display the depth they’ve been boasting on paper for the entire season. The duo of William Nylander and Auston Matthews on the top line is a threat for opposing defenders on any given night, leaving the door open for Mitch Marner and his linemates to tear into unprepared teams’ depth defensemen. All of this, too, comes without acknowledging deeper offensive threats like James van Riemsdyk and a much more optimized fourth line that now includes Kasperi Kapanen seemingly full time.
Big 3 Celly pic.twitter.com/2zabljKU8S
— Flintor (@TheFlintor) February 13, 2018
The real Leafs have finally stood up, folks. Put the league on notice.