The Toronto Maple Leafs are making changes to the lineup and will need to hope that reuniting Mitch Marner and John Tavares can light a spark.
After the offence went ice cold on their California road trip, the Toronto Maple Leafs had new lines at practice on Monday which shouldn’t come as a surprise.
The obvious change was seeing William Nylander and Mitch Marner switch spots and Kasperi Kapanen joining John Tavares‘ line. It’s the type of change the coaching staff makes when they feel things are going stale which was certainly the case the past couple of games.
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Getting healthy should hopefully help the Leafs get back on track especially on the backend. Adding a player like Morgan Rielly certainly makes a difference considering the trickle-down effect it has on the rest of the lineup.
Considering the Leafs’ main problem over the past couple of games has been their offence, it only makes sense that Sheldon Keefe would put his lines in a blender especially the Tavares line.
Since the David Ayres games, Matthews and Nylander have scored three goals and a combined 10 points over the past six games,. In that same stretch, Marner and Tavares have combined for eight points which might not seem too bad but when you figure in that they have three goals between the two of them, that doesn’t look particularly great.
"“Just change the chemistry a little bit,” Keefe explained to Mark Masters of TSN, when asked about the moves. “Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. In this case, we hope it can spark something for us.”"
It’s easy to make these changes when players have experience playing with each other like Tavares and Marner have and both enjoyed career-highs last season on the same line.
Interestingly enough, both Marner and Tavares offered different thoughts when asked about the line shuffling Keefe made.
"“I don’t think it changes much,” Marner said. “The offence wasn’t there the last week in California so maybe he threw something up to see what happens.”“Obviously, changes are made to get results,” said Tavares. “With the type of skill and obviously the talent we have, we have a really good mixture of guys that can lend to a lot of good combinations.”"
Marner doesn’t seem convinced that changing the lines will have an impact on the team’s issue lately. At the same time, when things are going stale, it’s hard to disagree with the team trying to shake things up.
Even Keefe said that the changes wouldn’t make a difference unless the team is willing to change the way they are playing.
"“There’s definitely some structure pieces and some tactical elements to it, but we got to work,” Keefe said. “We’re looking to be able to replicate more of what we’ve done when things have gone well, which to me starts and ends with how engaged we are and how we work and how competitive we are in all situations. And when we do that it’s amazing how much better our breakouts look, how much better our forecheck is, how much better we get the puck back in the offensive zone, how many more pucks you get to the net, how much better our power play looks, it’s just amazing how all those things fall into place.”"
Jason Spezza even told Masters that he believes the Leafs play down to opponents below them in the standings which is not something you want to hear a player say but it’s hard to argue against his point. Now they won’t have that luxury going up against Tampa, Nashville and Boston this week.
Can they get back on track in a situation where they have to elevate their play? Recent history suggests they can but it will take a big effort from the players who haven’t had their best stretch.
What do you think about the changes made at practice? Is it necessary considering the tough stretch ahead? Let us know in the comments below.