Toronto Maple Leafs New Line Combinations Sizzle in Win Over Canadiens

Saturday's contest against the Montreal Canadiens saw the return of Mitch Marner and the Leafs unveiling new line combinations. After a slow start, a second period explosion turned the game in favor of the road team.
Buffalo Sabres v Toronto Maple Leafs
Buffalo Sabres v Toronto Maple Leafs / Claus Andersen/GettyImages

With Mitch Marner's return last night against the Montreal Canadiens, the Toronto Maple Leafs lineup more closely resembled what it might look like when the playoffs start in a couple of weeks.

The unveiling of new line combinations at the Leafs practice on Friday brought eager anticipation to how they would look in game action. The biggest change was splitting up the dynamic duo of Auston Matthews and Marner.

Marner missed the Leafs past 12 games with an ankle injury. In his absence Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi flanked Matthews. That line remained together against the Canadiens, while Marner joined captain John Tavares and Bobby McMann. Forty-goal scorer William Nylander played with Pontus Holmberg and Matthew Knies. David Kampf, Connor Dewar, and Ryan Reaves continued to comprise the fourth line.

The new-look lines took awhile to get going, but a second period onslaught saw the Leafs explode for four goals. It turned out to be enough as the Leafs left Montreal with a 4-2 victory.

Toronto Maple Leafs New Line Combinations Sizzle in Win Over Canadiens

An uneventful, scoreless first period left much to be desired. The Leafs were outshot 9-4 by the Canadiens with the high-danger chances even at two apiece. The closest either team came to scoring were goal posts from Nick Suzuki and McMann.

After that ineffective opening period, the Leafs new forward units went to work. Max Domi opened the scoring, redirecting a point shot from Ilya Lyubushkin after a heads-up play from Matthews to let a rimmed pass reach the Leafs defenseman.

Just 17 seconds later, Matthews took a pass from Tyler Bertuzzi and his quick shot from the side of the net banked in off of Canadiens defenseman David Savard for his 64th goal of the season. The goal was also Matthews' 100th point, the second time in his career he has reached that milestone.

It took the Leafs only five minutes into the second stanza to get more shots on goal than they managed the entire first period.

Before the eight-minute mark of the second, Matthew Knies added a goal by being in good position in front of the net to deposit a Nylander rebound. Only 34 seconds later, McMann added a goal with help from Marner.

All four of the Leafs goals came at even-strength in a period they dominated statistically and on the scoreboard, despite giving up a power play goal to Suzuki and a late period tally from Cole Caufield.

Domi, then Ryan Reaves, also both took exception to a questionable late hit from the Canadiens Michael Pezzetta on David Kampf. Pezzetta accepted Reaves' invitation for a fight and lost rather handily.

The third period was similar to the first with not much happening. The Leafs were happy to nurse their two goal lead and limit the Canadiens scoring opportunities. The high-danger chances were once again even at two.

The Leafs Need to Ride With New Lines

Dispersed scoring throughout the forward lines was the biggest takeaway from this Leafs victory. Each of the top three lines scored a goal, all at even strength.

That was the thinking behind head coach Sheldon Keefe and general manager Brad Treliving's decision to put Matthews, Marner, and Nylander on different lines, making it more difficult for opposing coaches to matchup against the Leafs stars.

The Matthews-Domi-Bertuzzi combination played well during Marner's absence from the lineup. Keefe made the right decision to keep them together. Marner can drive a line with his play and Tavares is a capable finisher. Nylander should see easier matchups playing against the opponent's third line.

The Leafs fourth line mostly struggled against the Canadiens, and Nylander, Holmberg, and Knies had some difficulties. Morgan Rielly was once again the Leafs best defenceman, while the play from most of the other blueliners was acceptable.

A stiffer test for the Leafs will come on Monday against the desperate Pittsburgh Penguins, still in the fight for a playoff spot.


The Toronto Maple Leafs should continue with their new line combinations. Playoff hockey necessitates flexibility with your lines and line shuffling is bound to happen, but spreading out their elite players gives the Leafs their best chance for success.