National Post

Leafs’ depth good problem to have

- Terry Koshan

The idea that Mitch Marner could suddenly be taken away f rom him doesn’ t bother Matt Martin as much as you might think.

Marner was the Marner of old on Monday night — which means the Marner of 2016-17 — and if it’s true the better Marner plays, the better the chance he has to be moved off the Maple Leafs’ fourth line, Martin isn’t going to get riled up.

“I don’t make the lineups, I don’t worry about the lineups, I just hope I’m in the lineup,” Martin said with a smile late Monday night in the Leafs’ dressing room at the Air Canada Centre following Toronto’s impressive 3-2 win against the Los Angeles Kings.

“You have different linemates throughout the year and you make the most of it. Right now, we have a pretty special player on our line and will try to get as many offensive chances we can and produce.

“We have to win hockey games. That’s the most important thing.”

The Leafs have done that seven times in their first nine games of 2017-18. It’s the seventh time in franchise history the Leafs have won at least seven of nine to start a season and they’ve done it for the first time since 1993-94, when they went 10- 0 before losing.

All this while the lineup has taken time, to an extent, to settle, though it appears we now know what coach Mike Babcock will be using night in, night out, barring injuries.

Centre Eric Fehr cleared waivers Tuesday with the expectatio­n the veteran is sent to the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies. Dominic Moore’s job as the fourthline centre is secure.

On the blue- line, Roman Polak didn’t play a ton in his regularsea­son debut Monday, but Babcock would love for a Polak- Andreas Borgman pair to jell quickly. There were signs of that against Los Angeles and if the pair stays together, it would give the Leafs a physical option on the defence corps that isn’t supplied by the top four.

It’s because of overall team depth that Babcock can afford to put a player of Marner’s skill on the fourth line when it’s not clicking for the 20- year- old. Marner won’t be there forever, but when Babcock can move Connor Brown up to Marner’s spot with Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk, it’s further proof of the luxury of talent that many NHL coaches don’t have at their disposal.

Babcock’s advantage is he doesn’t require the same line or two every night to supply most of the scoring. Every Leafs skater who has played in at least one game this season has at least one point; the exception is Fehr, who did not record a point in four games.

Auston Matthews l eads the club with 12 points, but in the two games he has not put his name on the score sheet, the Leafs have won.

Though the Leafs required a 36- save performanc­e by Frederik Andersen to help beat the Kings, the most saves Andersen has had to make in a game this season, they mostly were able to shrug off a poor performanc­e in Ottawa two nights earlier. It speaks to the mental makeup of the players Babcock sees when he looks down the bench and it’s a factor that should see the Leafs through some nights when some areas of their game might be off.

When the Leafs return to practice Wednesday to prepare to play the Carolina Hurricanes at the ACC on Thursday night, no one will bat an eye if Marner remains on the fourth line. It will give Babcock yet another scoring option from a group that on most other teams does what it can simply to survive.

“You’re going to lose sometimes, but the ( important) thing is how you are going to bounce back,” winger Leo Komarov said. “We won ( against L. A.) and we need to forget it and keep going forward. You need to be on top every day.”


 ?? NATHAN DENETTE / THE CANADIAN PRESS ?? Toronto Maple Leafs winger Matt Martin, left, is sharing fourth-line minutes with a “pretty special player” in Mitch Marner.
NATHAN DENETTE / THE CANADIAN PRESS Toronto Maple Leafs winger Matt Martin, left, is sharing fourth-line minutes with a “pretty special player” in Mitch Marner.

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