At 6-foot-0, 175 pounds, playmaker Mitch Marner does not fit the traditional mold of a penalty killer.
But it’s a new NHL, where brains matter more than brawn, and it’s a modern Toronto Maple Leafs, where Marner (16) averages almost a minute a game on the kill. He’s already played more on the PK through 19 games this season (17:21) than he did in his first two years combined.
The San Jose Sharks power play was looking to break a 3-3 deadlock in the second period, when Marner’s smarts broke Kasperi Kapanen (24) free.
The Sharks had just gained the zone, hence net front regular Joe Pavelski (8) at an unfamiliar position on the right point. Instead of a predictable pass to Erik Karlsson (65) at the blueline, Pavelski opted to try to backhand the puck off the boards to Kevin Labanc (62) on the half wall.
Marner, stick flat on the ice, read it a mile away. According to Marner, Kapanen made the read easier. “I knew Kap was on the other side and he was taking away the middle,” said Marner.
Kapanen returned the compliment, “Mitch is really good at stealing those pucks.”
Marner followed that takeaway with another brilliant read.
”Kap called for it, so I just knew I had to chip it by [Pavelski].” Unlike Pavelski’s backhand, Marner put more air into his pass, eluding the Sharks captain’s backcheck.
“Sometimes, it’s just giving up certain plays to make a more boring play,” admitted Pavelski. “We’re just hanging [Martin Jones] out to dry.”
Meanwhile, that wasn’t Marner’s only clever play last night.
As John Tavares (91) broke out, watch Marner amble in the opposite direction of the breakout. It looked like Marner was going to the bathroom or something. But instead, the Sharks forgot about him.
That is, until Tavares met Justin Braun (61) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (44) at the blueline. Travis Dermott (23) retrieved and dropped the puck back to a hard-charging Marner, who had circled the net to gain speed.
This power play tactic, utilized at 4-on-4, sowed confusion and allowed for an easy Toronto entry. The Maple Leafs scored just 33 seconds later.