The Toronto Maple Leafs practiced for the first time Tuesday morning since the regular season ended on Sunday.
#Leafs lines at practice:— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) April 11, 2017
The forward lines had been re-jigged a little, with Ben Smith filling in for Tyler Bozak. Mike Babcock confirmed today was just a maintenance day for Bozak. The move of William Nylander to Nazem Kadri’s line and Connor Brown to Auston Matthews’ line may or may not be what we see on the ice on Thursday.
The defence pairs were rotated through a lot of combinations, per reports, and Josh Leivo was dressed as a defender to help out as well. Neither Roman Polak nor Nikita Zaitsev were at practice.
Present and accounted for was Frederik Andersen. He spoke afterwards about his chances of being ready for opening night of the playoffs:
He uses the word “hopefully” and makes no guarantees that he will be ready. As per usual with him, he won’t talk about specifics of symptoms or even confirm or deny he has been diagnosed with a concussion.
UPDATE: Garret Sparks has officially been returned to the Marlies, so the Leafs should have their two regular goalies at practice tomorrow.
Mike Babcock also met the media:
His update on the missing defenders was that they are “progressing”, and they are optimistic but not guaranteeing they will play Thursday.
As far as the swap of right wingers goes, he was cagey, but did say he’ll see how practice goes tomorrow, but he thinks they need to be “tighter”.
I read that to mean that putting Nylander with the very hard-playing, defensively gifted Kadri and Leo Komarov will let him still get offence, but at a lower risk of turning the play in the wrong direction. With Connor Brown on Matthews’ line, the goal scoring falls to the man who is, well, he’s tied for second in regular season goals with one of the greatest players in the league in Nikita Kucherov, so he seems like a man who can handle carrying the line offensively.
Babcock talks a little bit about line matching and indicates that he might see some matchups in the Washington home games he might not want. There is an interesting contrast between the Capitals who have two very offensive lines and one more traditional checking line, and the Leafs who have a more mixed deployment. Kardri’s line plays the “checking line” role in deployment and in competition faced, but Kadri and friends are also scoring a lot of goals.
The other main difference in deployment, which is not something that was discussed today, is that Babcock has only ever favoured one defender with really offensively focused deployment, and that guy plays for Wilkes-Barre now. Washington, on the other hand, puts Kevin Shattenkirk where he does the most good, in the offensive zone.
Without last change, Babcock will not be able to get Kadri out against the Capitals line he wants them against, and the end result may be Bozak or Matthews facing tougher bodies to get through to get to the net. Both teams have the same upside, they can score from anywhere on their top nine, so the Leafs are not feasting on a two line team in the playoffs.
Like Babcock said, they are the underdog. He has a lot of thoughts on what that means, so give him a listen.