Mike Babcock has been heavily criticized for his use of players. Whether it’s using Leo Komarov for 24 minutes in a game. Having either Mitch Marner, Connor Brown or William Nylander on the fourth line. Not to mention, keeping Kadri and Komarov together through the struggles that line has had.
Late in the third period in the game against the Colorado Avalanche Babcock decided to change things up a bit.
Getting The Best Out Of The Toronto Maple Leafs Forwards
At practice on Wednesday, Babcock was running a new group of lines. Lines that included recently called up Kasperi Kapanen and Matt Martin running plays as the scratched player. Komarov is now on the fourth line seemingly taking Matt Martin’s role which he fits perfectly.
Lines at Leafs practice:
Leo and Nazem, good friends and longtime linemates, split up today
Martin could be out in Chicago
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) January 23, 2018
Hyman, Matthews, Nylander
Why change it if it isn’t broken? Auston Matthews is producing at a better rate than his exceptional rookie season last year. Zach Hyman is only three points back from his rookie total while playing 33 fewer games. He remains the workhorse that the coach loves and continues to be Matthews’, right-hand man. William Nylander has struggled this season. Nylander is on pace for just 55 points. The large lack of production from Nylander came when Matthews was experiencing concussion issues and out of the lineup. Without Matthews this season, Nylander has averaged just 0.36 points per game versus averaging 0.76 points per game with his linemate. A healthy line will result in a higher production for Nylander. This line remains one of the top lines in the NHL and to split it up would have been a big mistake.
Marleau, Kadri, Marner
In the winding minutes of the third period, Babcock changed the Marleau, Kadri, Komarov line to consist of Marner instead of Komarov.
Marner has played with JVR and Bozak or the 4th line his whole pro career. He has defensive blemishes? YOU DON’T SAY!!! Stick his creativity with two dynamic, responsible goal-scorers in Marleau/Kadri, and grab some popcorn.
— Steve Dangle Glynn (@Steve_Dangle) January 21, 2018
MAR KAD MAR ALERT
— Steve Dangle Glynn (@Steve_Dangle) January 23, 2018
Marner has struggled this year while bouncing between the fourth line and the James van Riemsdyk line. Marner is only shooting 6.0%. Culminating for a grand total of 6 goals so far this season. He has also been heavily criticized for his lack of defensive play. Being paired with two of the three members of the former ‘shutdown line’ will benefit Marner greatly. Not only will this change benefit Marner greatly, it will also benefit Nazem Kadri. Kadri has one goal and one assist in his last 20 games. He needs the boost of offence that was not given to him by Leo Komarov. Marleau put up 27 goals last year and Kadri put up 32, with a pure playmaker like Marner on their line they will be set-up to get back to their scoring ways. This line move was the best possible choice that could be made. All players will benefit greatly from it.
Van Riemsdyk, Bozak, Brown
This line has been together before when Marner was playing with Dominic Moore and Matt Martin and has been successful. Bozak and van Riemsdyk are both defensive liabilities and cannot be trusted in their own zone, but with Connor Brown, the line gains stability. Brown has been a jack of all trades this season playing on every line that the Leafs have and succeeding in each scenario. Brown is both trusted on the powerplay and the penalty kill. He starts in the defensive zone more often than in the offensive.
While the youngest player on the line showing the two seasoned veterans of the Toronto Maple Leafs how to play defence, though it is ironic, it is something that needed to happen. Not only can this line produce offensively still, if they get caught on an icing it will not be a death sentence for the team.
Komarov, Moore, Kapanen
The fourth line has struggled heavily of late, especially with Babcock playing Frederik Gauthier at the fourth line centre position. Gauthier had a measly 30.43 cf% in the game against Colorado and despite playing only 8:54 was on for 2 goals against. With Gauthier sent down and Kapanen called up will steady out this line and have a large injection of speed to the line.
— Leafs PR (@LeafsPR) January 23, 2018
With Komarov being on the fourth line, despite his lack of skill on the third line, he is a player that still scored 14 goals last season. Uncle Leo will provide more skill for Kapanen then he has had in other stints on the fourth line with the Leafs. This will open a bigger opportunity for Kapanen than he has had. This also offers a chance to stick to the team with the trade deadline approaching and three pending UFA wingers.
Cracking Out Of This Skid
The line changes are exactly what the Leafs need right now. After being on just an 82 point pace since Dec. 1st and only having one regulation win since Dec. 28, Babcock needed to make a change after the losses and criticism he has received. The Leafs have received astounding goaltending this season. Frederik Andersen is sporting a 0.928 sv% since Nov. 1st, but with what has become less than an ideal offence since. This form of the lines looks to optimize all parts of the forwards. To get the forwards scoring goals again.