Mitch Marner benching: How defensive mistakes from Maple Leafs forward led to a temporary sitting and broken stick tantrum

Mitch Marner benching: How defensive mistakes from Maple Leafs forward led to a temporary sitting and broken stick tantrum

Emotions are running high right now in Toronto. The players, coaches and management might say otherwise, but the Maple Leafs are skidding and frustrations are being shown in the public eye. 

The Leafs enter Wednesday’s matchup against the Flyers coming off a dismal five-game road trip that saw the team go 1-2-2 and drop the last four contests, albeit two in overtime. Most recently was a loss to the Ducks on Sunday night, a 4-3 defeat in overtime that came after the Maple Leafs blew a two-goal lead in the third period. 

If the loss wasn’t bad enough, we had quite the display from Toronto’s bench area that caught the attention of all eyes on social media. Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe called a timeout in the third period and proceeded to call out Mitch Marner for two of his turnovers leading to Anaheim goals. You can tell by Keefe’s hand gestures and motions what he is saying to the team, with Marner sitting right in front of him.

The result is Keefe benching his 25-year-old winger, which was arguably the correct decision.

“When you have the game in control, you have to manage it better,” Keefe said after the game about Marner’s mistakes. “Everybody has to be responsible for their touch of the puck. … Both were well-intentioned and everything like that — it’s just, they’re tough plays. We gotta manage those plays better. But we also have to have better support around (the puck), so if things go bad, we’re in good spots.”

Marner didn’t seem to think so, electing to go down the tunnel to the locker rooms with a stick and smash it out of frustration.  

Mind you at this point, the Maple Leafs were still winning. That didn’t last, as the Ducks tied the game about five and a half minutes later. 

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What was Keefe’s move? Putting Marner back in after sitting just one shift. The same player who was responsible for Anaheim’s first two goals of the night, and also just had thrown a child-like tantrum in the tunnel.

Nonetheless it didn’t work, and with Trevor Zegras potting his second goal of the night in overtime, it dropped the Maple Leafs to 4-4-1 on the season and opened up the conversation of what’s next for this team.

The noise from the Toronto media and fan base is deafening right now, with more questions than ever with this group. The fallout of the Anaheim loss has yet to be determined, but this is a team teetering on falling to shambles. You have one of your star players not only getting benched, but handling it extremely poorly with a semi-public outburst, and a coach that will hold players accountable for their mistakes and actions — unless that player is a star like Marner and you are tied with one of the worst teams in the league. 

Credit where credit is due, Marner handled it all with grace when asked about it on Tuesday. In regards to the benching, Marner told the media that he had “no problem with that at all” and that “you gotta take accountability, and you gotta put it on yourself.” However, that does not change the fact that his poor defense allowed the Ducks to stay in the game and led to another Maple Leafs’ loss. 

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While the Leafs’ focus shifts to the Flyers, The Sporting News is going to break down the plays that led to two Anaheim goals and the eventual Marner benching. Was it justified, or an overreaction by Keefe? We’ll let you decide. 

Breaking down Mitch Marner’s turnovers vs. the Ducks

Marner coughs up puck below goal line that leads to Silfverberg’s goal

In the first period, the Maple Leafs are leading 1-0 with under nine minutes left. The Ducks enter into the Maple Leafs’ zone off of a rush and are able to get the puck along the wall. Marner is backchecking Isaac Lundestrom, the initial puck carrier, and continues his pursuit into the defensive end. Once the puck goes up in the air, Marner loses sight of it and ends up down in the corner. 

This is where everything goes wrong. For starters, Marner is out of position. Not only is he a wing below the goal line, but he is on the wrong side of the ice. Marner should be on the right side of the defensive zone, not down in the left corner. Which is why at the time of his attempted pass, all five Maple Leafs are on one side of the ice, including three forwards all at the dot or lower. 

Marner ends up trying to backhand a pass behind him to Mark Giordano that instead, deflects off Lundestrom and goes right to an uncovered Derek Grant, who finds an uncovered Jakob Silfverberg for the goal. 

Now Marner is not the only one to blame. Earlier in the play at the other end, Alexander Kerfoot thought the puck was going in on an attempt by Calle Jarnkrok and decided to celebrate prematurely with his hands up in the air when the puck passed by his feet at the back door and went to the corner. You also have both Filip Kral and Auston Matthews watching as Silfverberg settles into the slot and collects the puck for the score. You’d like at least one of those two to cover Silfverberg in front rather than sitting back in coverage. 

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However, at the end of the day, Marner is out of position and turns the puck over, which directly correlates to a goal. Sure, he got to that side of the ice because he was backchecking, but as soon as the puck was in the offensive zone, that should have been Marner’s cue to find his area of the ice. 

Marner turns over the puck high at the offensive blue line that leads to Zegras’ goal

Here we have a sequence in the middle of the third period with the Maple Leafs up 3-1. Matthews carries the puck into Anaheim’s end and cycles it along the wall to Marner. The winger initially can’t handle the puck, kicking it to the boards where he can retrieve it and work his way up to the blue line. 

As he is maintaining control of the puck, he is being defended by Adam Henrique. But it’s actually Troy Terry who does a drive-by poke check and is able to collect the biscuit after the takeaway. With the rest of Toronto caught flat-footed, Terry sends Zegras flying through the neutral zone in on the breakaway and he beats Erik Kallgren with a slick move. 

Once Marner coughs up the puck in the Ducks’ zone, the Maple Leafs are screwed in transition. Here you can see where all the Toronto players were at the time of the turnover. 

Excluding Michael Bunting and Nathan Beaulieu (the two players below the dots), you have four Ducks facing up ice while all four Maple Leafs are going towards Anaheim’s net. Matthews is working his way down again for the cycle and Morgan Rielly is holding his blue line. The far defensemen, Justin Holl, has sucked down too far in anticipation of a potential pass (which was never an option), leaving a gap available for the speedy Zegras. 

Once the puck is on Terry’s stick, Zegras takes off, easily beating Holl, Rielly and Marner to the Toronto net and deking out Kallgren for the tally. 

Again, it’s not all on Marner. You’d like your goaltender to make a stop on a breakaway, but more importantly, you need your defensemen to maintain the blue line in the offensive zone. With the puck on Rielly’s side of the ice, Holl is the weak-side defender at that point and can’t be jumping into the zone when the play hasn’t developed that way. He is the last line of defense in that scenario and shouldn’t be moving up in the offensive zone, especially with the puck so high up towards the blue line. 

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But, at the end of the day, the puck was on Marner’s stick in the offensive zone and he allowed the Ducks to take the puck away with the rest of his team not in a good position to transition. It resulted in Zegras going in and cutting the lead to one. 

Did Marner’s mistakes warrant a benching, even a short one? You be the judge.