The Boston Bruins‘ top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak have dominated their series against the Toronto Maple Leafs thus far unlike any other in recent memory. The trio has combined for an absurd 20 points through two games – 16 of which have come at even strength.
Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock was forced to shuffle his lines heading into Game 2 with the absence of Nazem Kadri. He put the slow-footed Leo Komarov on the top line, but that was destined to fail. After going down 4-0 by the end of the first, Babcock again brought out the line blender, but nothing he came up with could contain the best threesome in the NHL.
Yet, perhaps the solution to shutting down Boston’s three best players is right in front of Babcock’s face – put his three best players on a line together: Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner.
According to Corsica, Matthews, Marner, and Nylander have only played together for just over 12 minutes at 5-on-5 over the past two seasons. Babcock is a large proponent of spreading the wealth of talent through the lineup, which isn’t necessarily wrong over the course of a full season.
However, going up against a team that has loaded their top line, Babcock should counter by doing the same. Though it’s an awfully small sample size, a Matthews-Marner-Nylander trio has yielded some impeccable results together, accounting for over 70 percent of the expected goals for while on the ice.
These three youngsters don’t have the defensive savvy that Boston’s top line does, but they certainly have the skill to keep up. They would undoubtedly be able to possess the puck more than any other Leafs trio, which would mitigate the scoring chances the Bruins’ top unit creates, and the penalties they’ve been able to draw. Furthermore, a Matthews-Marner-Nylander line could create some dazzling offense of their own.
Now, the Leafs would need more than a simple lineup shuffle to stop Boston’s top line. Their defense would also need to step up in a big way. But the defensemen matched up with Bergeron’s line would be playing in their own end far less if Matthews, Marner, and Nylander were together controlling the puck in the offensive zone together.
Here’s a possible lineup Babcock could send out for Game 3:
Would Toronto’s bottom-9 then be good enough to contend with Boston’s? That remains to be seen, but if the Leafs were to lose again, Babcock would sleep a lot easier knowing he did everything in his power to shutdown Bergeron-Marchand-Pastrnak in a good old-fashioned battle of best-on-best. At this point, he’s really got nothing to lose.
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