Keefe confident in Campbell and the team amidst recent slump
Between Auston Matthews’ Herculean goal-scoring and Mitch Marner’s passing and playmaking ability, the Toronto Maple Leafs have one of the most formidable offensive duos in the National Hockey League.
But how formidable is formidable? Are they the best scoring duo in the league?
It’s not an unreasonable question to ask. The Maple Leafs have been reticent to separate Matthews and Marner over the years (they’ve played 87 per cent of their minutes together this year at even strength), and for good reason – the team scores goals in bunches whenever they are on the ice, irrespective of who the third forward is on that line.
Zach Hyman has been a sensational fit with Matthews and Marner, but Sheldon Keefe has experimented with Alex Galchenyuk and the veteran Joe Thornton, as well.
At any rate, the duo is lighting it up again. They have outscored their opponents 39-24 at even strength, and it’s the goals for number that stands out. That’s an average north of 3.6 goals per 60 minutes of even-strength play, or, said another way, 16 per cent higher than the league’s top-scoring even-strength team in the Washington Capitals.
It’s also part of a multi-year trend, which gives us even more confidence that it’s not a short-term surge in production.
The list of duos around the league that could rival the Matthews and Marner production are few and far between, but they aren’t devoid of competition.
This sort of trend raises a question: If Matthews and Marner are on the short list of best offensive duos, who else in that group? And are there any tandems around the league more productive than the pair on Toronto’s top line?
I pulled every forward combination averaging at least 3.1 goals per 60 minutes – the same scoring level of the aforementioned Washington Capitals – on a base of at least 400 minutes.
As you might suspect, Marner and Matthews are near the top of the list. But they have serious competition with a pair of teams from the West Division:
It’s not a surprise to see the top six spots occupied by the two best lines in hockey. Peter DeBoer (Vegas) and Jared Bednar (Colorado) can comfortably argue they have the two best lines in hockey right now – the Mark Stone-Chandler Stephenson-Max Pacioretty line and the Gabriel Landeskog-Nathan MacKinnon-Mikko Rantanen line have both been obliterating the West Division all season long.
And much like we are getting increasingly confident about just how dominant Matthews and Marner are being this productive spanning multiple years, the same is true in both Vegas and Colorado. The Vegas goal numbers are almost impossible to believe.
But once you get away from the league’s two elite lines, you can see that Matthews and Marner are as good a pair as the league has to offer.
Their biggest intra-division competition unquestionably comes from Edmonton. There are a few Oilers’ duos in there, but one you won’t see is Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, who have played 290 minutes together at even strength (and thus didn’t meet the minimum ice-time requirement). If they were eligible, they would rocket to the top spot on this leaderboard, averaging a jaw-dropping 6.0 goals for per 60 minutes of play.
A common theme on this list is a playmaker – perhaps an elite passer, or a strong skater – paired with a goal-scorer playing on a dynamic offensive team.
It’s quite difficult organizationally to be able to find a tandem like that. But when you do, the goals come aplenty.