Tavares and Nylander reunion sparked fire for Toronto

TORONTO- William Nylander and John Tavares are back on the same line, and head coach Sheldon Keefe intends to keep that line intact for the short term.

The Toronto Maple Leafs pilot stirred the soup in a 5-2 win over the New York Islanders on Monday. A decision that paid off. After watching his attack fail to find their rhythm in the opening 20 minutes, Keefe brought the two forwards together. They took the opportunity to amass a total of six points in a four-goal second period for the Torontonians.

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So Keefe didn’t have to ask too many questions when it came time to decide if Tavares and Nylander would stay together. They will be paired with Calle Jarnkrok when the Maple Leafs host the New York Rangers at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; TNT, SN, SN NOW).

« I decided to go back to that, » Keefe said after practice Tuesday. “The way the guys responded tells me nothing needs to be changed. »

For most of last season, Tavares and Nylander found themselves on the same line, where they were joined by a variety of wingers, as Mitchell Marner, Auston Matthews and Michael Bunting formed the first trio. This season the roster has been changed somewhat, and Nylander and Marner have swapped places.

Keefe’s decision, made with the Islanders up 1-0 after the first period, saw Nylander pick up two goals and two assists, while Tavares had one goal and one assist.

« I don’t see it as cast in stone, » Keefe added. It’s just that sometimes you need to change the chemistry a bit and get a spark.

“The season is long, and I think it’s important to maintain a chemistry that works on both sides. Last season, there were times when Matthews and Marner were very successful together, and we made changes periodically. I think it’s important to continue this way. »

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Keefe didn’t promise how long this reunion between Tavares and Nylander will last, but in the short term he liked what he saw.

“These are elite players. And when they’re playing well, it doesn’t matter who their linemates are, because they’re going to find a way to produce and impact games.

“Look at the way Will plays and the consistency he brings. For example, last night he didn’t have a good first period, but he was able to correct things and have a great second period. Same thing for John. It’s a good sign and it’s very healthy for them and our team. Like I told them, in the past it would have taken them three or four games to bounce back. This year both have been able to make adjustments, especially Will. »

In the end, the big quartet of Maple Leafs – Matthews, Marner, Nylander and Tavares – produced at a blistering pace, no matter who played with whom.

For example, Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season as his team’s most valuable player, had 13 points in a 10-game point streak. He is having a 53-point (25-bit, 28-assist) season in 46 games.

While those stats are impressive, they aren’t nearly as impressive as Nylander’s, who leads Matthews in goals (26) and points (56). Marner is tied with Nylander for the team scoring lead, having scored 17 goals.

As for Tavares, he had 47 points (21 goals, 26 assists) in 48 games, and he played, according to Keefe, his best period of the season on Monday. The 32-year-old center is averaging nearly a point per game, which could play his 1,000th NHL game against the Washington Capitals on Sunday.

« I think we’ve had some good streaks this season, and now ‘Willy’ is back with me, » he said. We are trying to work together, and with Calle, to create good momentum.

“The results are there, and I’m very happy. »

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