It goes to say that there was something broken with the Leafs during the third period of Game #3. Whether it was players not being able to match up against an aggressive push from the Blue Jackets, whether they were gassed after eight intense periods of hockey so far this week, or if it was just a relaxed attitude towards what looked a win they could cruise to, there are a lot of signs pointing to some changes needing to be made to the lineup.
More or less Sheldon Keefe confirmed that changes are coming, but equally unsurprising is the fact that he’s not going to share what those changes are…
Sheldon Keefe says #Leafs are discussing some shifts to the lineup for Game 4, but "we're not going to talk about that now."
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) August 7, 2020
Given that we have nothing else to go by, I’ve turned to the TLN Contributor team to put together either their best guess at what could happen, but much more importantly, the change that they’d like to see to the lineup for Game Four.
While there is potential that that lineup change could be Johnsson, I’m not holding my breath. So I’ll argue that the biggest change that should be made is adjusting the top six. The big four have been fine, but Hyman and Mikheyev have seemed pretty average and maybe changing that up for tonight might help. Robertson is the easy promote, but after that it’s up for grabs. Kerfoot, Engvall, even Kappy might not be terrible options, but something needs to change up front.
Robertson and Mikheyev flipped. For all the talk about how Mikheyev looked “phenomenal” in camp, it hasn’t translated into the games thag matter whereas Robertson has looked more than capable. I’d also be more than okay with an 11F/7D lineup with Spezza coming out.
Despite a phase 3 training camp that earned him an “MVP award” from the Leafs media, Ilya Mikheyev has struggled to make his mark through 3 games against Columbus. Though Nick Robertson hasn’t been perfect and has been physically outmatched at times, the 18 year old has been a noticeable scoring threat early in his NHL career. He’s tenacious on the puck and has shown an ability to make moves in tight before making a heads up pass, to say nothing of his outstanding shot. I’m not suggesting they should be swapped for the entire game, but Robertson could provide some energy as a more dynamic player on a line with Tavares.
Martin Marincin took over for Jake Muzzin during Game 3. While he did a fine job on the penalty kill, he also did not really turn the tides for the Leafs from an offensive standpoint. This was especially apparent following Nick Robertson’s goal which saw Columbus out-skate and out-work Toronto into coming back from a three-goal deficit. With their backs against the wall, they will need to take some creative risks in order to try and force a decisive Game 5. That’s why it makes sense to swap Marnicn for Rasmus Sandin. Although his experience is minimal (espeically given the youth on the blueline without Muzzin), Sandin did find success during his second stint with the Leafs back in January. Like the addition of Robertson, bringing in Sandin may give the team a bit of jump as they try and help the young defender get comfortable. With nothing left to lose, it might be a good idea to give Sandin his first taste of NHL postseason hockey.
Marner with Robertson. The Tavares line has been able to generate chances but not finish much, and Robertson has had trouble getting in a good position to shoot. Let Marner make his high risk plays, but make sure he’s giving the puck to a guy who wants to shoot.
Engvall played too good to come out of the lineup, but I still think the Leafs should roll with 7D. Marincin plays every minute of every PK, and Sandin takes his place 5v5. Spezza comes out for the back to back, and Engvall/Clifford get to wheel with Matthews or Tavares a couple times a period.
Leave Kerfoot, who I think has been playing well, and let him take more defensive zone draws with two wingers (Mikheyev and Kapanen) who can fly through the neutral zone with the puck.
Robertson deserves more of a chance to jump into high action play. I don’t see this as a demotion for Marner, but more so a change of scenery. He just hasn’t been connecting well in the spot he’s in right now. I was debating switching Mikheyev and Kapanen, but I don’t think he’s ready for the second line in this series. I’ve gone with the 11F/7D because I believe that Sandin could be the spark the team needs. Spezza has been okay, so taking him out for the second half of a back to back won’t hurt. This isn’t drastic, but it’s enough of a change that we may see everything work out the way it should.
If there’s anything Sheldon Keefe should do, it’s to run 11 forwards and seven defencemen. As much as I want to say that I enjoyed Martin Marincin’s game last night, I also didn’t. A lead that was diminished due to poor defence and a lot of giveaways, I don’t think Marincin should play anywhere other than on the penalty kill. Also one other quick note to Sheldon, try Nick Robertson with the John Tavares line. He provides a finish first mentality that isn’t on that line right now. And hey, if it doesn’t work, slot him back on the Kerfoot line and everything is okay.
As hard it is to take out someone who just scored, the Leafs don’t need more Cody Ceci right now. I would swing for the fences and run a defense of:
So, I’m sure the lineup changes won’t be as drastic as I’d like them to be. We could see Freddie Gauthier come in for Jason Spezza or something equally uninspired, but if I’m making the changes, I go a bit more swinging for the fences.
First off, Jack Campbell was the only goaltender on either team that didn’t play yesterday. I put him in because I want the most rested goaltender possible. Freddie has been solid, but I want to see the numbers played, and the numbers say don’t start the same goalie on back to backs.
Secondly, I bring in Rasmus Sandin, and possibly Timothy Liljegren. Some fresh legs on defense could make a world of difference, and swapping either Sandin or Liljegren for Marincin has tremendous appeal.
Finally, if there is any chance that Johnsson is ready to go, you bring him in now. Spezza hasn’t exactly been noticeable in this series, and getting Johnsson in for Spezza would be a nice get. You can play Johnsson higher up in the lineup if need be, and slide Ilya Mikheyev down to the fourth line because he’s certainly not playing like a top six forward.
That being said, we’re probably just getting Gauthier in for either Spezza or Engvall.
While we wait to see what happens, take a look at the preview of tonight’s game. We do know that the Blue Jackets have confirmed Elvis Merzlikins as their starter, and hopefully the Leafs have similar luck against him as they did the second time they saw Korpisalo.