With five games left in the season, Mike Babcock appears to be tinkering with the Toronto Maple Leafs power play looking for more net-front presence.
The Toronto Maple Leafs lead the NHL in goals scored at 5-on-5 with 197 and on the power play, they are eighth at 22 per cent with 44 power-play goals.
Going into December, the Leafs were third in the league converting at a 29 per cent success rate but since Dec. 1st, they are 13th at 18.9 per cent. While part of the reason can be attributed to having a league-low 200 opportunities with the man advantage.
Mike Babcock usually doesn’t like to make major changes to his lineup which is why the new power play combinations at practice on Friday got some attention.
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The interesting part was seeing Zach Hyman being used as a net-front presence and splitting up the top unit in what should be seen as a more balanced one-two punch. Whether this can have the desired impact will be something to look forward as Babcock expects to roll these lines out against the Ottawa Senators.
“We’re trying to do is make sure we have a good option, especially if things don’t work,” Babcock told TSN’s Kristen Shilton. “Our power play has been pretty good. Obviously the harder we work on it, the more success it has. It’s just different options as we move ahead.”
Considering the margin for error is very small in the playoffs, the Leafs should be willing to experiment with their power play and try to get some penalty kill work. Each unit offers different skill sets which could make it difficult for opposing teams to strategize against.
Even if it doesn’t work, the Leafs can go back to what they have been doing from the start of the season but clearly, Babcock sees the opportunity to make necessary tweaks. At the same time, they should also take some time to ensure the penalty kill doesn’t have a repeat performance from last year’s series against the Boston Bruins.
Their penalty kill allowed seven goals on 18 opportunities on the road while not limiting themselves to only three penalties at home. This season the Leafs PK is 13th in the league 80.9 per cent and if they can fine tune coverages, it can force the Bruins to try and beat the Leafs at even strength.
Another factor the Leafs should be keeping in mind is that the Bruins have allowed 13 shorthanded goals which are the second most in the league. If Kasperi Kapanen and Mitch Marner can get some chances offensively, this could be something to exploit.
What do you think about the Leafs trying new lines on the power play? Is it something they should prioritize ahead of the playoffs? Let us know in the comments below.