With some mixed up lines at practice today, the Leafs and Mike Babcock got a chance to see one potential arrangement without Auston Matthews. Matthews, who missed that practice, is still being evaluated and his status for tomorrow’s game isn’t certain.
That arrangement was:
After practice, Babcock discussed the new lines, Matthews, and plans for tomorrow.
On Matthews, Babcock said the medical science department tells him what to do, and they’ll know more later this afternoon.
On the lines, he said that they changed their minds six times, posted them, and then changed their minds again. And then he said, “I wasn’t in love with it by any means.” He seemed to not take very seriously the idea of playing William Nylander at centre, and yet he also said they don’t know what they’re doing tomorrow.
About Frederik Gauthier, Babcock noted that he doesn’t generate much offence (something we’d noticed) but that he “knows how to play” which is true up to a point. It sounded like he was brought to the Leafs, in the middle of the Marlies’ road trip, as a stopgap. The likelihood he will play seems very low.
One thing we don’t actually know is if Kasperi Kapanen has gone anywhere but home. If he’s not off to Wilkes-Barre to play tomorrow, then he could very well be swapped with Gauthier again and end up in the game.
One reporter asked Babcock about how he decided between Dominic Moore and Eric Fehr, which was a nice subtle way of asking why not call up Fehr for this potential injury replacement instead of Gauthier. The answer wasn’t terribly revealing beyond Babcock using his catch phrase “that’s a good question” to tell us all he’s not giving a full answer to it.
One more (opinionated) note about Nylander and the fannish desire to see him play centre. My advice is to watch the games. Because I’ve seen him take a lot of faceoffs and continue to play as the centre during that shift. You see this more in the offensive zone, but he stays in the middle after they’ve given the puck away and have to go chase it down again.
I think you’ll know he’ll be more seriously considered for the role of top nine centre when they give the puck away rarely and they chase it around less.
There’s a sly question in the scrum — sly is the opposite of subtle — about “the right players” learning to play without the puck. What that sort of setup does is let the reporter fill in his own blanks about who those players are he refers to with a knowing tone, while avoiding the unpalatable truth that there’s a star centre who is participating in the giveaways as much as his floater Euro winger is, particularly within a few feet of the defensive blueline. It also skips over the fact that Nazem Kadri has moments where he makes Tyler Bozak look gifted at defensive-zone play.
Babcock’s answer just ignored all the sly implications and focused only on the “we” of the team, and how the Vegas game on Monday wasn’t a perfect picture. “Adversity never killed anyone,” he says about everyone who needs to work to improve.
So, okay, we aren’t actually going to be harmed by metaphorically tearing our hair out watching this team go through these troubles right now. It’s just going to feel like it.
I just hope one of those six or seven other lineup options hits the ice tomorrow and looks better than the one they frightened us with today.