Toronto Maple Leafs vs Washington Capitals: Game # 25
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Broadcast/Streaming: CBC, CBC.ca (free for all viewers in Canada), NHL Network, NBC in the Washington region
Opponent SBNation Site: Japers’ Rink
Last night, while the Leafs were winning a game they tried to lose, the Capitals roared out to a dominating start against the Tampa Bay Lightning and then held their own to win it with their backup goalie in net.
So, no pressure.
The Capitals have been going through the same situation as the Leafs where the coach is trying to find a lineup that is more than one super line and everyone is whinging back that he should just play those two guys we like best together. Both coaches decided to try it.
Of course, anything that takes your best performing players and concentrates them on one line has a predictable effect. I like to call that the Boston Principle. Last night, the Leafs super line, with the two guys who played well the whole game prominently featured, was very good. So was Washington’s. The rest of the forwards on either team? Well, that’s the problem, isn’t it?
If these new lineups for both teams appear again tonight, the interesting question will by how do Nazem Kadri and Evgeny Kuznetsov do? Any better than last night?
Toronto Maple Leafs
Your lines this morning are my best guess. Mike Babcock said he would put Matt Martin back in, and Josh Leivo played his way up the lineup last night while Nikita Soshnikov played his way to the press box.
Zach Hyman - Auston Matthews - Mitch Marner
Josh Leivo - Nazem Kadri - Leo Komarov
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - William Nylander
Matt Martin - Patrick Marleau - Connor Brown
Morgan Rielly - Ron Hainsey
Jake Gardiner - Nikita Zaitsev
Andreas Borgman - Connor Carrick
Curtis McElhinney - assumed starter
From the excellent Leftwinglock
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Devante Smith-Pelly
Chandler Stephenson - Jay Beagle - Alex Chiasson
Brooks Orpik - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Taylor Chorney - Madison Bowey
Braden Holtby - likely starter
During this period of lineup mixups while the Leafs have struggled to perform well, Mike Babcock has come as close as anyone ever really has in the NHL to the “roll four lines” idea. Last night was the nearest to it he’s ever come. By sitting Dominic Moore and Matt Martin and using Patrick Marleau as a centre, he’s got four plausible NHL lines.
I hate it.
I am on record, and I’ve argued this frequently, that rolling four lines is horribly inefficient, can’t help but reduce the ice time of the best players in favour of lesser players and unless you’ve got an exceptionally gifted set of depth forwards, it’s almost impossible to really see four good lines when you take off the homer goggles.
What actually has happened in the games is not quite as balanced as the lineup looks in a list. At five-on-five, Josh Leivo played the least last night, even with some shifts with Kadri. Nikita Soshnikov and Connor Brown were right there with him, fourth liners in usage if not name.
I feel like I’m watching Babcock fight with himself. In the heat of it, he returns to a lineup with the genuinely good players playing the most minutes for the most part, but when he sits down to write up the lines, he’s trying to spread out the talent and the truth is, there really isn’t enough to go around.
Caught in the middle of this push-pull is James van Riemsdyk. He shoots a lot, second only to William Nylander and perhaps Patrick Marleau. He shoots more effectively than Nylander, he has a genuine scoring talent unmatched by anyone on the Leafs except Auston Matthews. He’s barely playing at five-on-five.
Van Riemsdyk’s new line with William Nylander was okay in Florida and horrible for part of the Carolina game, although they had their moments offensively. He ends up hemmed in defensively because he’s bad at defence and the only passing centre on the team can’t find his way out of the d-zone with a map, a bread crumb trail, some string, and a big flashing exit sign. He plays well in the offensive zone with Nylander however, but they had some issues where they were trying to do the same thing at the same time.
This, along with the nerfing of Nazem Kadri with offensively-challenged wingers and the consignment of Marleau to a grade B checking line role, is why I think the Leafs are running on the Boston Principle even when it looks like their lines are more evenly balanced. Luckily, the Matthews line itself works very well with Marner on it, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. Shame about the rest of the team.
Sorry for being so negative, but I’m still really crabby after watching the last two dreadful games.
So, okay Leafs, you scored your way out of a big mess last night, why not do that again?
EDITED to add: My guesses are terrible!
Based on #Leafs optional skate participants, I would guess Roman Polak, Matt Martin and Dominic Moore will all play tonight vs. Capitals. Leivo, Sosh and Carrick all skating.— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) November 25, 2017
Make up your own lines, I give up.