The Toronto Maple Leafs have the Tampa Bay Lightning on the brink and are headed down to Florida knowing all they need is one more win.
While the line-up that the Toronto Maple Leafs iced in Game 5 has shown it can absolutely get the job done; there’s an argument to be made for shuffling things up a little.
Of course, changing out any of the top-six would be foolish. The Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner combination shone once they were afforded some 5-on-5 ice.
Likewise, John Tavares and William Nylander picked the best possible time to finally find their groove. Nylander especially shone with a three-point night.
Why Would the Toronto Maple Leafs Change a Winning Line-Up?
The argument here is that suddenly the Tampa Bay Lightning are playing the role of predator hunting its’ prey. The Toronto Maple Leafs are going to find themselves battling with every hit completed and shots hitting Jack Campbell from everywhere on the ice.
Tampa are about to (excuse the pun) unleash a storm of physicality and offense, at least that’s what you might assume given the way they have pushed back after previous losses this series.
This is going to leave the team vulnerable, to a degree. In Game 5, we saw even Auston Matthews delivering the heavier hits though, so maybe there’s less to worry about, though why risk it.
The obvious change to make is to re-insert either Wayne Simmonds or Kyle Clifford into the line-up. However, the less obvious part of this is who would be removed, regardless of the fact we’re literally talking about 5-7 minutes of ice-time here.
Having one of these two guys in the line-up and provided they don’t make any foolish decisions as they both have earlier in the series, would act as hopefully a deterrent to any extra-curricular activities.
The thinking being that with Tampa Bay backed into a corner, they could decide to make Game 6 much more of a physical game and look to break-down the Leafs in the one area they’re proving slightly more dominant; the powerplay.
Here lies the challenge though; who do you take out of the Toronto Maple Leafs line-up?
Jason Spezza has obviously shown he brings amazing value to the team, even if it’s less about being on the ice these days. With that said though, he still leads the second powerplay unit, so adds that value too.
Likewise, swapping out Colin Blackwell might be an option. It depends if there’s any swelling or injury from the puck he took to the side of his face.
Again though, he is useful as a penalty-kill option and might’ve had his best game in Game 5. You certainly heard his name more a fair amount for someone that was only out there for 4:48 in total.
The final option in that group is Ondrej Kase; again, he brings value on both special teams so it becomes a hard swap to make. With that said, he probably is the best option to rest out the game as he hasn’t yet gotten back to his best game.
We’re talking very minor adjustments here, when you look to that line seeing less combined minutes between them than the likes of Morgan Rielly, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Jake Muzzin and T.J. Brodie saw individually.
It’s a tough call to make, especially as both players we’re suggesting to swap in arguably might have or did cost us games earlier in this series. Should Sheldon Keefe stick with what is working or take a slight risk?