Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock has a healthy lineup and no scarcity of match alternatives versus the Boston Bruins.
Exactly what he does with them to shut down Boston’s top line come game 1 Thursday is a key to the series if Toronto wishes to advance past the preliminary for the very first time because 2004.
Both teams had 3 30-goal scorers on their lineups in the routine season, with Toronto’s James van Riemsdyk, Auston Matthews and Nazem Kadri broke up among 3 lines. Boston’s gone leading heavy with Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak rolling together as one of the most harmful lines in hockey.
” Well, to me, [Bergeron], I simply believe he’s a great player with and without the puck,” said Babcock. “Their line all has 30 objectives and yet they play without it too. To me, that’s a huge factor in any series if their great players are good.
” They’re elite players any way you take a look at it. Bergeron is real excellent in the face-off circle, they all work real tough and contend real hard, Marchand and Bergeron are elite penalty killers so they know the best ways to play the game without the puck and for the longest part of the year they hardly got scored on.”
Throughout the season, Kadri has been Babcock’s favored shutdown centre, with Patrick Marleau and Mitch Marner playing much of the second half on the wings after dropping Leo Komarov down. Kadri is most likely to get the Bergeron match.
Toronto’s final practice Wednesday before flying to Boston included routine line combination, with Tomas Plekanec centring a 4th line with Komarov and Kasperi Kapanen. Andreas Johnsson and Dominic Moore took routine turns in drills and are available while it appeared Matt Martin and Josh Leivo will continue viewing games from the press box.
Plekanec put up just two assists in 17 games after being gotten from Montreal at the trade deadline and that’s just great with Babcock, who states that he 35-year-old does everything he wants in his fourth-line function.
” You can trust him. You can trust him without the puck, you can trust him to play against great players,” said Babcock. “Leo and [Kapanen] and him, or Leo and [Johnsson] and him, I believe, it gives me real excellent options there. I believe he’ll be very important for us in this series. I think like all older people, they get a little bit more juice at this time of year and we anticipate him to be great.”
Expanding the work evenly
Babcock is wishing for more equally expanded ice time for all four lines so he can minimize the pressure on his top players. He will not have last change on the road so getting the ideal matchups will not be as simple.
” I believe the biggest thing is the better [the 4th line] plays and the much better we play, the more they get to play,” Babcock said. “When you’re chasing the game, those men do not get to play as much and if you go through the minutes all year long, the games we lose our big guys play more minutes. If we can expand the work and everybody can be crucial, I believe that’s a positive thing.”
Toronto had the second-best power play (25 percent) and 11th-ranked penalty kill (81.4) in the regular season while Boston had the fourth-best power play (23.5) and completed second in eliminating charges (83.7 ).
Babcock believes special groups could be another major consider the series and does not plan to stray far from loading up on short-handed ice time for deference Ron Hainsey, who led all NHLers at three minutes 59 seconds per game in the regular season.
Make the most of unique teams
” The charge kill and discipline is going to be a substantial part for both teams,” stated Babcock.
” They have great unique groups, we have great special groups. Obviously, getting off to an excellent start in those locations leads to confidence and free flow, particularly on the power play.
Boston still relies heavily on veteran blue liner Zdeno Chara, who was 3rd this season with 3:39 per game of short-handed ice time.
The Bruins will apparently lack forward Riley Nash for Game 1 due to the fact that of injury. Babcock hopes luck will stay on his team’s side in terms of health unlike last season in a first-round defeat against Washington when Toronto lost Nikita Zaitsev and Roman Polak.
” In 2015 I think we started healthy and then 2 games in we didn’t have 2 deference men. That’s simply the method it goes, you’ve got to hope you remain healthy which belongs to the all the best in sport the rest you earn however that becomes part of the good luck is when you can avoid injuries.”