Sheldon Keefe defends Mitch Marner after loss on Saturday.

Sheldon Keefe defends Mitch Marner after loss on Saturday.

The head coach of the Maple Leafs was not willing to listen to criticism of his star forward after a tough loss.

Jonathan Larivee

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner has been the target of much criticism this season in spite of the fact that he is having himself a solid campaign with 5 goals and 15 assists for a total of 20 points in just 19 regular season games this season.

Marner has been much more quiet as of late with just 3 points over his last 7 games, all of those assists, and that has played a major role in why Marner has been the target of criticism both from critics and fans. When he was asked about Marner's decline in performance following a tough loss on Saturday night however Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe was having none of it.

Keefe could have easily deflected blame onto Marner after losing an important game, to a certain segment of the Maple Leafs fan base at least, to former Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas and his new team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, but instead he highlighted the positives in Marner's game this season.

"I look at our five-on-five scoring this season and at the top of the list is Mitch Marner," said Keefe on Saturday night in defense of his star forward. "Guy here that we say hasn’t played his best hockey, and has all the hardest matchups every single night, yet is at the top of our team in five-on-five scoring. So, it’s interesting how it all works out."

Keefe is correct in his statement but it is also fair to point out that Marner has produced 97 and 99 points in the last two seasons respectively, a pace he is not matching this season with his recent decline in production. Of course it is a head coach's job to motivate his player and that may be the purpose of Keefe coming to the defense of an emotional player like Mitch Marner.

It may be that Keefe feels that shielding Marner from the worst of the criticism is the best way to get his star forward's mind back on the game.