Four games too late, Mike Babcock has clued in to how his team should actually be constructed. To no surprise to anyone, he then fucked up deploying them.
Why does it always seem like one step forward, two steps backward for Mike Babcock and how he ices his team? And why does that one step forward always seem like common sense that a $6.25m coach shouldn’t need time or media pressure to figure out? Ah, such is life with Mike Babcock, who yet again showed us this pattern against Washington.
The step forward
Kasperi Kapanen is a right-winger. That’s it, that’s the talking point. Shoe-horned into the first line leftwing position, Kapanen had struggled mightily this season, that is until he was moved down the ice to flank Kerfoot and Mikheyev on his natural right side. Kapanen is a fast skating, run-and-gun shooter and doesn’t fit the Hyman role what so ever, so why did this take so long to remedy?
Call it ignorance or bravado, but Babcock doesn’t like to be wrong and playing Kapanen off-wing was so obviously wrong. He would flip sides of the ice at any chance he got and the chemistry lost on the line nullified one of the most electric offensive units (on paper) to start the year. Trevor Moore, who was bumped up to this position, fits the Hyman build way better and has looked more natural in that spot in a game and a half.
Against Washington, Moore and Kapanen connected for a shorthanded goal, capitalizing on their special teams play together. Later in the first period, Kapanen’s line again scored with him finding Mikheyev in the seam who netted a breakaway goal. Crisis over, the third line can exist without Moore. Changing these players as Babcock did and then stuck to against Washington is a positive and one the team could build on moving forward.
The mile backward
Imagine all of the positive tweaks this team has undergone lasting more than one or two games and compiling into a true Stanley Cup winning team? That would be the dream, and yes this apparently is just a dream because Babcock giveth and Babcock taketh away.
The net is empty, you’re playing a potential wildcard team in the playoffs, you have a chance to go three games unbeaten and you have the chance to win what some would view as a statement game on a back-to-back. What is the next logical move? Bench Auston Matthews for almost the entirety of the final two minutes when you have an extra attacker on the ice. Of course.
All offseason Leafs Nation groveled for Matthews’ ice time to go up this year. He played a shockingly low amount in the playoffs and if this team is going to grow, that needed to change. Thus far this season Matthew’s is up just under a minute per game compared to last season, as he sits at 18:53 TOI, but this is a far cry from McDavid’s avg. 22:30 a night, or Jack Eichel’s 21:16, or even Barkov’s 22:25 TOI; why isn’t our dominant center given more of a look?
He netted the game-tying goal against Montreal with the goalie pulled and is the most talented player on this team. He’s also a fixture on the first PP unit, so why was he not on the ice to capitalize on the man advantage? It’s clear Babcock has a style of play he wants to imprint upon his players but at what cost?