Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Babcock and Leafs focusing on lineup flexibility

Just three games into the 2019-20 regular season and there is already a sense of urgency and importance with every single period for this Leafs season. There has not been this level of significance when it comes to the Leafs in what feels like a very long time.

With championship aspirations and a highly-skilled lineup from top to bottom, Toronto is giving it their all to do everything the right way this year.

One of those key aspects that has been identified by players and coaches has been the ability to keep a constant and consistent level of production throughout the lineup. No matter who is on the ice for Toronto, there’s a chance for the team to score a goal and prevent opposing scoring chances.

Most teams in the NHL try to establish this level of overall success, but it’s widely known that the Leafs have more talented depth players than most. And in a recent interview with Jonas Siegel of the Athletic, head coach Mike Babcock discussed his roster’s ability to be fluid.

“Well, you know what’s interesting to me is I think we’re very flexible here. I think we move people around all the time,” Babcock said.

“If you think we didn’t do something that you thought we should have, that’s your opinion. We got a whole management team here, we make decisions based on that. We gather information every single day. I’m going to do what I think is right. And I’m going to gather all the information and we’re going to make the decision. I’m not going to canvas (the media) to see what you think.”

As mentioned, they go over every lineup possibility and make sure that their chosen one should. No matter how many gripes we all have with some decisions, none of them go without a deep discussion on the execution.

One of those key decisions has been placing Kasperi Kapanen as John Tavares’s winger to start the season, replacing the injured Zach Hyman. It hasn’t looked the greatest on the ice in the extremely small sample size, but it’s a philosophy that has been spread throughout the organization.

“I think we have a lot of trust and belief in everyone’s ability,” said Tavares. “[We] just to have a good sense of how we all play.

“The continuity from last year, even with [Kapanen], didn’t play with him a lot, but just being around him everyday and we have a sense of his game. He’s easy to play with.”

It’s knowing who could possibly be on a line together and knowing what will work well. All four forward lines can — hypothetically — blend and still find some instants of success. Unlike last year that found the forwards beyond the top two lines to suffer from having lesser talents with them or just not working together well, this season there seems to be an added certainty to have all four lines able to produce.

“I think we can build momentum off each other, keep coming wave after wave,” Tavares said while reflecting after the pre-season game against the Montreal Canadiens in Toronto. “When we have success, we’re doing things fast, doing things quick going forward and getting pucks to the net. Letting our creativity come off of that and a lot of puck recoveries, tracking back harder and being able to come on the transition.”

‘Wave after wave’ is instantly something to grab on to. This concept to have rolling lines that won’t stop being difficult for opponents is what can win them games — that and of course having elite forwards at the top of those lines.

It’s doing the little things right and since these quotes from Tavares and Babcock are from before the season started, this philosophy has been evident on the ice through the first three games.

An unrelenting force that can take over periods and keep the other team on their heels as the forwards and other defencemen keep coming and adding pressure with or without the puck.

As the season goes on and some injured players return, it will be interesting if this continues and is still prevalent in the 82nd game as it has been so far.