We’ve spent an excessive amount of time dealing with our opinions on “tie goes to the veteran” within Leafs Nation. We’ve established where most of us fall when it comes to playing guys like Roman Polak over Connor Carrick, and Leo Komarov over Andreas Johnsson (and to a lesser extent over Josh Leivo). It’s safe to say that it’s in our nature to question what Mike Babcock has done and I honestly feel that a lot of the ideas produced warrant implementation.
That being said, it’s not going to happen now.
The Penalty Kill
Hainsey and Polak near the top in time on ice in Game One thanks to their penalty killing roles, that’s not going to change. You’d think giving up three power play goals would warrant an overhaul, but in a season where only Hainsey, Zaitsev, and Polak saw significant PK time on the blue line means that we are not likely to see Gardiner or (heaven forbid) Carrick fill those roles anytime soon. The best we can hope for is that Morgan Rielly does more than just a cameo and that it doesn’t take a five minute major for Dermott to factor into the PK equation.
Maybe there is a bit more hope when it comes to forwards on the penalty kill. Again, Hyman, Komarov, and Brown are the comfort food here, and Moore and Plekanec get the guest starring roles, but even in Babcock’s “no stars on the PK” world, Kasperi Kapanen, and Andreas Johnsson have made appearances this season. When the penalty kill has worked so poorly, both of those players provide the speed and offensive threat that may restrict the merciless beating the Leafs received in that regard last night. The idea of playing someone as skilled and complete as Matthews on the penalty isn’t going to happen this year, even though all signs point to it probably being a #good #idea.
The interesting contrast here is that Bruins rely heavily on both Marchand and Bergeron being a part of their penalty kill. It’s not something where when David Backes takes a two minute penalty, not only do you not see Backes on the ice for two minutes, you also don’t see Marchand and Bergeron. That’s only amplifying the damage inflicted by the penalty call.
The next time Roman Polak takes a penalty, reflect on how he’s taken Matthews, Marner, Nylander, Kadri, Dermott, van Riemsdyk, Gardiner, and Marleau out of the game for the next two minutes (or often less). That seems goofy.
The Kadri Factor
“MOVE NYLANDER TO CENTRE!!!!” seems to be a popular battle cry and one I 51% agree with, given that we are likely looking Nazem Kadri being absent for at least one, if not two games this series (anything more than that is excessive and could be the topic of another post.)
My problems with Nylander at centre might align with Babcock’s in this rare instance, and that is that he hasn’t seen a lot of time there this year. That of course is Babcock’s fault, but maybe the time to go against that isn’t in Game 2 of the playoffs when the Bruins have the last change. When the Leafs are playing at home, it’s more appealing, but it ignores that Babcock isn’t going to change the way he does things now. The tie will still go to the veteran.
The best case scenario of the tie going to the veteran, at least to me, is that we see Patrick Marleau shift over to centre and he’s given a reasonable offensive talent such as Kasperi Kapanen or Andreas Johnsson to accompany him and Marner. With the tie going to the veteran, we probably need to prepare ourselves for Leo Komarov rejoining the second line.
As I write this…
Okay, so let’s unpack this because I’ll hold myself accountable to what I said above. Marleau did seem like the best of the Babcock approved options, and I had made peace with Komarov being moved up in the lineup. Johnsson comes in, which is good, and Hyman is a better offensive weapon for Marleau than Komarov, who will now be on the ice with Marchand for a lot more licks.
Honestly, I can accept this by looking it the way I’ve always looked at the Leafs. It could have been so much worse. No Dominic Moore. No second line centre Tomas Plekanec. No Matt Martin. These are wins, however small and unsatisfying they may be.
This is also a lineup for the Leafs on the road. Do we see Hyman back with Matthews for Game Three? There’s a good chance of it. If Kadri’s still out, is Nylander at centre possible? It will depend a lot on Game 2, I’d imagine. The Leafs are making a shit sandwich with Kadri out of the lineup, but this one at least looks okay even though it probably won’t pass the smell test.
Game One didn’t go well. Kadri missing time is going to hurt. There are plenty of reasons to question the decisions made by Mike Babcock (or any other coach for that matter), but the reality is that Mike Babcock is not going to drastically change his established way of coaching the Leafs after one playoff game. No matter how much Polak and Hainsey may leave many of us nauseated, they won’t be going away quickly, and in fact the Leafs defensive pairings in practice today. If we’re going to be damned, it’s going to be damned for what Babcock is, not what we want.