So it looks like the annual tradition of Kadri getting suspended for the majority of the first round is alive and well. Not all traditions are good ones I guess and that’s something to reflect on while watching Coach’s Corner. But I digress.
Kadri is likely done for the first round and Mike Babcock’s immediate solution is to put Nylander with Marleau and Brown.
So that seems like a bad idea. There isn’t really anything optimistic about this trio together. Things start looking a bit better if you combine two of them, and I think there’s a strong case there from Brown and Marleau making up two thirds of a solid fourth line, but it doesn’t seem to work with Nylander. The Leafs would be putting their fourth best forward in a less familiar position and taking away the biggest strength of his game, which is offense and playmaking.
So if Nylander at center with Brown and Marleau is likely to be done after tonight, where do they go from there?
Option 1: My Lines
So here’s where I force you all to look at my line combinations:
This is pretty much etched in stone, nothing is going to change here.
As much as Johnsson-Matthews-Kapanen worked for a good chunk of the regular season, it hasn’t worked in the past month, and has certainly not worked against the Bruins. Assuming that Moore is the Hyman and Nylander can play a somewhat similar role to Marner, this line has the potential to mirror the success of the other first line.
This line might require a bit of sheltering, but you’ve got two solid regulars in Johnsson and Kapanen who are supporting a natural center in Nic Petan. This seems like it would stymie the production of the two wingers, but they would definitely not be facing the competition that they would working with Matthews.
Ennis-Marleau-Brown (sub in Gauthier if you feel uncomfortable with the idea of Marleau at C)
If you are going to gamble on someone playing center when they haven’t for a while, it’s probably the fourth line where you do that. As we saw in the table above, Marleau and Brown at least have a positive goal differential, and the sheltering of the fourth line should strip away the worst parts of the shot differential. It’s good that Ennis is getting into the lineup, as more offense is generally a good idea after scoring only one goal in the previous game.
All of this said, there are a few things here that seem outside the comfort zone of Mike Babcock, and are fever dream lines of a blogger.
Option 2: Flip Nylander and Matthews
Like I said in option 1, Matthews-Johnsson-Kapanen hasn’t been working of late, and Nylander-Marleau-Brown hasn’t worked at all. Perhaps giving Nylander two capable forwards in Johnsson and Kapanen gives him a fighting chance, and perhaps Auston Matthews can pull shades of Crosby and McDavid and drive the offence of two inferior wingers.
Matthews played with Brown and Marleau for almost nine minutes this season, and that yielded a 73% Corsi For %, and 75% expected goals for %. The sample couldn’t be any smaller, but desperate times and all. In this scenario I’d also like to find a way to get Gauthier out of the lineup for Petan.
Option 3: Just drop Petan in for Kadri
Leave everything else from the Game two lineup alone and give Petan the chance to play with Marleau and Nylander. Somehow this seems slightly less cruel to Nylander than having him play with Marleau and Brown. Perhaps an Ennis-Petan-Nylander third line and a Moore-Marleau-Brown fourth line is an option as well.
Option 4: Split up Johnsson and Kapanen
So let’s say Nylander is replacing Kadri and there’s nothing we can do about that. Let’s find a way to give him a fighting chance by giving him one of the Leafs skilled wingers to work with. In this scenario it could look like:
I mean, that’s probably the best compromise and there’s a chance that any of these four lines can score in the right circumstance.
Option 5: Bring in this guy…
Seems like a classy guy and definitely not someone who will cross check someone in the head. Let’s give him a shot.