With Nazem Kadri‘s three-game suspension, the Maple Leafs will be without their No. 2 center until Game 5 (if necessary). Given Patrice Bergeron‘s propensity to shut down opposing top centers – even Auston Matthews – Kadri was as important as anyone to the Leafs’ success this series.
Mike Babcock said these will be the Leafs’ line combinations in Saturday’s pregame warmup, per TSN’s Mark Masters.
The veteran Patrick Marleau shifting to center seems the logical choice. The 38-year-old can still fly, is responsible defensively, and with 178 career playoff games, no moment is too big for him. Here are a few possible lineup combinations that keep Komarov in his proper fourth-line role.
If Babcock is intent on a Hyman-Marleau-Marner trio, Johnsson is a much better top-line option than Komarov. He can score and also brings a lot of energy and tenacity – not unlike Hyman.
Flipping Brown and Kapanen would bring some much-needed speed to the third line.
William Nylander played center in Matthews’ most recent absence in the regular season. And while having the young Swede down the middle would make Babcock more stressed than a college student during exam season, there’s an argument to be made that his presence would make the offense more dynamic, even if there’s some defensive risk involved.
While the sample size isn’t large, in 62 minutes together at 5-on-5 this season, Nylander and Marner generated 56.5 percent of the shot attempts, 80 percent of the goals, and 66 percent of the scoring chances. This trio could make Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy second-guess whether the Bergeron line and the Chara–McAvoy pairing should shadow Matthews.
Brown’s responsible play in his own end on the top line would keep Babcock at ease, but given that he’s scored just one goal in his last 23 games, Johnsson could be the better fit alongside Matthews.
There’s almost a zero percent chance Babcock would send out a line as defensively irresponsible as JVR-Nylander-Marner, but that trio could do some damage on the scoreboard.
Option 1A would seemingly be the best way for the Leafs to begin Game 2, but if they wind up trailing as they did in Game 1, Option 2B could kick-start the offense.
(Advanced stats courtesy: Natural Stat Trick)
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)