The Toronto Maple Leafs season to this point has not seen an extended period of adversity, at least not to the extent that their fans are used to.
So when coach Sheldon Keefe began to reshuffle the forward lines this week in practice, it seemed to be a shock to Leafs Nation. It is clear though, and no secret to anyone following the Toronto Maple Leafs, that this season all entirely hinges on playoff success.
This lineup shuffling is proof that over the second half of the season, Keefe’s main focus will be on preparing this team for an extended post-season run.
Creating a well balanced lineup will be the key to the Leafs competing with the best of the best, and tonight may be the first look at the team’s ideal playoff lineup. (stats naturalstattrick.com).
Grading the Toronto Maple Leafs New Lines
1st line: Bunting – Matthews – Kase
This is the trio that I, personally, have been hoping to get an extended look at once the team came to full health.
Sheldon Keefe tried them together for a game earlier in the season, but this time it seems like they may allow the experiment to develop a bit longer. Bunting and Kase compliment Matthews perfectly, in their style of play, and can open up the ice for Matthews to generate dangerous opportunities.
Bunting was disruptive all night, as he typically has been all season, and even drew a penalty that lead to a goal in the first period. Kase seemed to struggle a bit to find his place on the line in the first period and the line did not look too dangerous.
As the game wore on, Kase began using his speed and tenacious puck retrieval skills and the line was able to create chaos in the Ducks defensive zone. In the second period this resulted in multiple scoring chances and eventually the Ducks got desperate and had to commit a penalty.
The ever dangerous Maple Leafs powerplay then hit the ice and scored for the 3rd time in the game. Look for this line to build on this game, and continue to wreak havoc in the opposition’s zone throughout the rest of the year.
Overall, this line played 12 minutes of 5v5 hockey, with a puck-possession rating of 70% and outshot the Ducks 7-0. This was good for a 77% expected goals rating. They didn’t score, but it’s hard to imagine a better stat line.