Leafs head coach reveals the truth behind why he swapped Marner and Nylander on Saturday

Mike Armenti
December 24, 2023  (10:18)

Photo credit: NHL

The Leafs have had their fair share of ups and downs this season, but there was perhaps no lower point in 2023-24 than in the team's 9-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday.

Following the loss, Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe knew that his team needed a bit of a shake-up, which he was able to accomplish by juggling his lines and D pairings for Saturday's game against Columbus. The biggest change to the lineup, of course, was the Nylander/Marner swap, shifting William Nylander back down to line 2 with Tyler Bertuzzi and John Tavares, while Mitch Marner was bumped back up to the top line with Matthew Knies and Auston Matthews.
Prior to yesterday's dominant win over the Blue Jackets, Keefe had the opportunity to meet with the media to address the move and provide his rationale behind the decision to swap the two elite wingers.
"Just looking at it again on the road, I find that Matthews generally is going to get all of the attention, the toughest matchups, and the most focus and game planning. Nylander away from Matthews presents some additional challenges for the opposition.

Probably the biggest thing is that we are coming off a couple of losses here. Despite the fact that Matthews has been scoring consistently, I don't know if I would say Willy has been a huge contributor to those goals. I believe that Auston could still continue to be Auston and work well no matter who we have him with.

The Tavares and Bertuzzi line (with Nylander) has been the best line we have had all season when they've been together. We had them together against Pittsburgh not long ago, which of course was a great night for us. When I am looking at changing things up, it is something I naturally go to, but the rest of the lines are on my mind as well." - Keefe on why he chose to swap Marner and Nylander on the top two lines

As far as how the swap worked out, Matthews and Nylander each enjoyed 3-point nights for their respective lines. Marner also finished the night with two assists and John Tavares scored himself a highlight reel goal, assisted by Nylander and Brodie - though neither was particularly involved in the play, as Tavares did the work by himself, dancing through several Blue Jackets defenders before ripping it home.
I'd imagine that these are the top two forward groups that we'll see a lot of moving forward, barring injury of course. It's just as well, because we know just how dangerous the Matthews/Marner tandem can be, and we also saw Nylander put together a 17-game point streak to open the season on Tavares' wing. Forcing more change on those top two units at this point would just be over-tinkering on Keefe's part.
Leafs head coach reveals the truth behind why he swapped Marner and Nylander on Saturday

Who do you prefer to have playing on Auston Matthews' right flank?

Nylander14220.4 %
Marner44463.9 %
I really don't think he needs either10915.7 %
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