After starting off the season with a dismal 2-4-1 record, Toronto Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe came up with some new lines which have worked wonders for his team. Now in the midst of a five-game win streak, the Leafs sit in second place of a tough Atlantic Division and look to keep rolling.
Maple Leafs New Lines Thriving
After their less than mediocre start to the season, Keefe mixed with his forward lines in an attempt to get some offence going. One of the major changes that this meant was putting Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner on separate lines. The two have been linemates for the past couple of seasons and have developed chemistry playing together. In the 2020-2021 season, Marner produced 67 points while Matthews had 66, to go along with a league-leading 41 goals. While the move was a bit of a shock, the two did not seem to have the same chemistry that they demonstrated from last season early on in the year. Matthews looked a bit rusty coming off of a wrist injury, and Marner did not have the same creativity that he has shown in the past.
Keefe reunited William Nylander with Auston Matthews and John Tavares with Mitch Marner. Both duos had played together in the past. Another move that Keefe made was sending power forward Nick Ritchie down to the fourth line from the first. Ritchie had been underwhelming so far for the Leafs and lacked the speed and intensity needed for a top-line role. Replacing Ritchie was Scarborough native Michael Bunting, who had looked great so far for the Leafs.
The Leafs’ new forward lines look like this:
Michael Bunting – Auston Matthews – William Nylander
Alexander Kerfoot – John Tavares – Mitch Marner
Following Keefe’s new lines, the Leafs have started to win games in bunches. Marner and Tavares seem to have found their chemistry from a few years ago, and both Matthews and Nylander have found their scoring touch again.
Another surprising change that Sheldon Keefe made following the Leafs’ tough stretch to begin the season was scratching defensive staple, Justin Holl. Holl had previously played 55 games for the team last season and appeared locked into a top-four role, playing in a pairing alongside Jake Muzzin. Through the first few games that the Leafs had played, the Muzzin-Holl pairing had a rough time shutting down opposing teams as they did so well last season. Keefe opted to take Holl out of the lineup and chose to insert Timothy Liljegren. The 24-year-old Swedish defenceman had played a few games for the Leafs in the past seasons but never had the opportunity to take on a full-time role with the club. This season Liljegren looks like a legitimate NHL defenceman, and Keefe has decided to play him over Holl to start the season.
After making this move, the Leafs’ defence has also gone through a few changes. They now look like this:
Jake Muzzin – T.J. Brodie
Rasmus Sandin – Timothy Liljegren
In the past few games since Holl has been scratched, the defence has appeared to be improved and more reminiscent of the stable one that the Leafs had last season.
Keeping Things Going
After making these lineup moves, the Leafs have won five games in a row. With their offence producing, defence shutting other teams down and goalies making big saves, the Leafs will look to keep things going as they continue to push for a playoff spot this season.