The Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning split two games in Toronto and will now fly to Florida for games three and four.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have the better team and stats from the last 82 games, but they also have a reputation as chokers, while the Lightning are back-to-back champs.
The calculous here favors the Lightning, at least among anyone I can find who isn’t also a Leafs supporter, and that’s completely understandable.
But the Leafs have proven they can hang with the champs, and I think the best way forward is to play their own game and not worry about their opponent. That means focusing on speed and skill, and dressing a lineup that reflects that.
Special teams are as unpredictable as goaltending, but the Leafs have outscored the Lightning 5-2 at 5v5 and been the better team at 5v5 when the games have been close. That is more repeatable than goalies or special teams, and it gives the Leafs a slight edge.
In order to capitalize on this edge, I believe they should bring the game to Tampa and not the other way around. The best way to do this is to utilize their speed and alter their lineup to do so.
Toronto Maple Leafs Game Three Lineup
Brodie and Rielly
Why the Leafs ever altered their successful top pairing is beyond me. Brodie and Rielly is solid and reliable. Brodie is the Leafs most reliable defender, and Rielly is their best offensive defenseman.
Put them together, play Holl with Muzzin and keep Giordano with Liljegren. It’s not that Lyubushkin is bad, it’s just that he can’t move the puck at all, and has no business on the top line of a Cup Contending team.
This is a classic example of a team fixing something that wasn’t broken. (stats naturalstattrick.com).
Yes, it’s sometimes smart to have an elite player on every line.
But it’s never smart to intentionally deprive one of your best players from ice time. Nylander on the third line means not enough Nylander. It also means about a third of his plays die on the stick of David Kampf.
Much like the top pairing experiment, this is a case of fixing something that was working well. Nylander and Tavares combined to each almost score a point per game for the entire season.
Meanwhile, Engvall-Kampf-Mikheyev has also been a great line.
Go with what you know works.
This line has been a disaster. Kyle Clifford was suspended, but he should not get any more ice time for the rest of the playoffs after his brutal and idiotic hit in game one.
Jason Spezza should play. I am not one to make sentimental lineup choices, but Spezza is the heart of this team, and Colin Blackwell sucks anyways.
He has a 45% Corsi since joining this team, and while he’s fast, he hasn’t been effective at all. 42% expected goals when has played (19 regular season games) is just not good enough.
Wayne Simmonds has taken dumb penalties, refused to fight in game one, and just generally looked like he should already have retired.
It’s time for the Leafs to give Spezza some ice time, preferably with Joey Anderson and Nick Robertson. Who cares if the 4th line of Tampa is tough? If that’s the case, beat them with speed, not your own version of their 4th line, just one that is slower and weaker.
If the Toronto Maple Leafs make these adjustments, I am confident that they can win at least one of games three and four in Tampa and then take the series when it moves back home.