Mitch Marner was just fine on his own Saturday night.
Playing without injured Auston Matthews, Marner stepped up with a power-play assist and then an even-strength goal in the first period, sparking the Maple Leafs’ 4-0 win over the Oilers in the opener of a pivotal three-game series in Edmonton.
Marner and Matthews have created arguably the NHL’s most deadly duo so far this season. But the good news for the Leafs — who continue to list Matthews as day-to-day with a suspected wrist injury — is that Marner is also pretty productive on his own.
While Matthews has mixed his tremendous shot and goal scoring ability with some tenacious defence, Marner continues to have an innate ability to make everyone he plays with better.
That was the case when he set up William Nylander on the power play for the game’s first goal. Marner then scored 73 seconds later, his 10th of the season. It was also his 10th multi-point game of the season, vaulting him into third place in NHL scoring behind Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
Jason Spezza scored on a snap shot after a fake shot in the second period. In the third, Zach Hyman outduelled Darnell Nurse in a corner puck battle before scoring his fifth goal of the season.
This series was billed as a clash with first place in the North Division on the line. The Leafs, now six points up on Edmonton, guaranteed they’ll still be on top after the final two games of this series.
Goalie Jack Campbell, back after missing 13 games with a leg injury, worked well behind a solid defensive effort, stopping all 30 shots he faced for the Leafs’ first shutout of the season and the third of his career.
The Leafs are now 22-11-2 all-time without Matthews in the lineup.
- Nylander’s hot: Nylander’s goal was the third in a row for the Leafs over two games. He now has eight on the season, three on the power play. He also has four goals and 14 points in 22 games when Matthews is not in the lineup. Nylander’s goal also snapped an 0-for-12 slump on the power play for the Leafs.
- Johnny on the spot: John Tavares was assigned to the top line between Marner and Joe Thornton with Matthews out. Tavares assisted on both first-period goals and now has 167 points in 167 games as a Leaf.
- Subtle moves: Two subtle plays created those first-period goals. On the power play, Thornton lightly cross-checked an Edmonton defender into the right post, not enough to draw a penalty, but enough to create confusion in the crease and a narrow hole for Nylander to fire in his goal. The second was a stretch pass from Justin Holl that sprung Tavares on an odd-man rush with Marner. A quick, backhand pass from Tavares set up Marner for the finish.
- Piling up points: Spezza’s goal was the 952nd point of his career.
- Silent stars: Solid team defence kept McDavid and Draisaitl off the scoresheet: McDavid managing one shot on goal and two shot attempts through two periods. He was a minus-3 and has been held pointless in four games now this season. Edmonton entered the game 11-2-0 in the previous 13 games after starting the season 3-6-0. They had scored an NHL-leading 29 first-period goals.
- Matthews update: Matthews skated on his own Saturday. Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said he continues to be day to day. Toronto plays Edmonton again Monday night. Matthews had missed one other game this season – a Jan. 22 tilt against Edmonton in Toronto, which the Leafs won 4-2.
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