I hate overloading readers with mixed metaphors, but looking for a silver lining in the very dark cloud of Auston Matthews’s injury is akin to looking for a needle in a haystack. With that concession as a proviso, the revival of the Marleau-Kadri-Marner line might constitute that one needle.
That line was probably Toronto’s most consistent offensive force when it was put together last year, and the impact of its re-establishment last night was THE key to turning around the game.
Nazem Kadri played his best game of the season, his offence revived with the arrival of Mitch Marner on his wing. He played his usual defensive shutdown role, and combined it with much of the offensive creativity he displayed with those 2 linemates last season. He was a beast in the face-off circle.
Likewise, Patrick Marleau played his most effective game of the season.
I get that Babs dangled the prospect of playing with Marner as one of the hooks to lure Tavares to Toronto, but JT has shown that he can be stunningly impactful even when he has played with less lights on the Island. He looked fine last night with Kasperi Kapanen and Zach Hyman. So even though any Leafs’ fan is going to hate the idea of Matthews out with injury (ideally, a very short-term injury), one hopes that Mike Babcock will remain open to the idea of maximizing the team’s talents by experimenting a bit more with the line combinations.
Again, things may change again when Matthews and (hopefully) William Nylander return, but I would not be so quick to break up the “Mar-Kad-Mar” line when that happy time comes.