Nothing like practice line rushes to spice up an off day. Thank Babcock for giving us something to:
A) Joke about
C) Watch people lose their marbles over
So, since twitter is for joking and blogs are for #analysis, we’ll focus on why this has happened. The eye test has consistently made a case for the Bozak line being a defensive black hole. While they typically still end up on the positive side of shot and goal differential, they don’t exact suppress a lot of chances and as we saw with the first goal in Montreal on Saturday, they are somewhat clueless what do when they return to their own end.
You can also look at the options for who to move around on this line. You could move van Riemsdyk down to the fourth line and replace him with either Matt Martin or Josh Leivo, but it’s hard to imagine the team gets better defensively. You could swap Bozak and Dominic Moore, but you are taking a huge step back offensively, and again, you probably aren’t going to want a guy who is platooning on the fourth line to take a 3C role, so that leaves Marner and Brown. We’ll assume the top two lines aren’t being touched at all because Mike Babcock is happy with what he sees. I’d wonder about a Marner and Komarov exchange at some point, but going up against a red hot Ovechkin probably means Babcock wants his shutdown line together.
Brown has been a good soldier putting his time on the fourth line and now that an opportunity has presented itself to utilize his defensive play in the top nine, he’s getting his shot. That makes sense. Marner is the unfortunate odd man out, who probably won’t be the odd man out as much as we expect him to be. Marner is probably going to still see offensive zone starts with his linemates, and could just as easily draw in for Leo Komarov on the Kadri line in the rare instance the Kadri line is out for an OZS. Both Brown and Marner are unlikely to see their special team roles change in this situation.
So far this season Mitch Marner has averaged 15:41 of ice time a game. Connor Brown has played 14:54 a game. Changing the lines probably doesn’t do a lot to Marner, but it does give Brown a chance to make the Bozak line a little better. My money is on it still struggling, because it still has Bozak, but might as well give it a try.
The Leafs play the Capitals tomorrow night, a team which the Leafs know their status quo lines don’t hold up against. With Washington being deep on offense, it probably makes sense to spread around the responsibility on the Leafs a little more.