As we pass the 50-game mark of the NHL season for the Toronto Maple Leafs, they find themselves in the heat of the battle for a playoff spot with just two months to go.
The bulk of the success for the Toronto Maple Leafs this year have relied heavily on their top two scoring lines led by the core four of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander.
As a result, it is vital that they are accompanied by the ideal third linemate that can help maximize their offensive output as much as possible. Rookie Matthew Knies appeared to have settle in quite nicely with Matthews and Marner, while the same for Tyler Bertuzzi with Tavares and Nylander earlier on in the season.
However in recent weeks, both the contributions of Bertuzzi and Knies have become more stagnant despite the potency of their linemates. Bertuzzi has registered only 3 points his last 12 games, and just 8 points in his last 20. Whereas Knies had been struggling even more, putting up just 5 points in his previous 21 games before busting out with his two-point showing against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday.
The Toronto Maple Leafs Need to Make This Bold Move Right Now
As much as the core four have been on fire, they could be even more lethal if they have someone that provides the right chemistry and complementary production on their lines at the same time. As a result, it might already be quite late in the season to gamble with line experimentation, but now should be the right time for the Leafs to make the bold move in trying alternate options in their first two lines in place of both Knies and Bertuzzi.
One obvious candidate is none other than Nick Robertson. Having finally broken through to become a mainstay in the Leafs lineup this season, it is time to see what he can do with the big boys. In his past 11 games, he has registered 4 goals and 2 assists along with a shooting percentage close to 20% while playing on the third line. Adding a legitimate scoring threat like Robertson to either of the first two lines would suddenly make them even tougher for the opposition to stop them. (All stats from hockey-reference.com)
Another prime candidate would have been Calle Jarnkrok. His effective mix of defensive play, forechecking, along with his lethal shot makes him a perfect complement on any of the top two lines. Unfortunately, he is currently out with a hand injury and it may be a while before he is back.
Therefore, the Leafs can go into uncharted territory and give Bobby McMann a shot. With his rugged style of play along with surprising speed might be able to produce some unexpected positive results.
Nevertheless, the Leafs need to act now before the slow production of both Knies and Bertuzzi begins to drag down the core four. If that does happen, it could lead to dire consequences, since the team’s success is almost solely driven by the top two lines. Let the musical chairs begin!