Leafs test out new lines

Standard-Freeholder (Cornwall) - - SPORTS - LANCE HORNBY

NI­A­GARA FALLS — Mike Bab­cock rolled out a ver­sion of his new for­ward lines on Fri­day and ev­ery­one took no­tice.

On the benches dur­ing scrim­mage. Among team brass up in the stands, the spec­ta­tors at the Gale Cen­tre and per­haps even a cer­tain un­signed for­ward sit­ting across the ocean, track­ing it all on so­cial me­dia.

There was Aus­ton Matthews, split from Zach Hy­man and now with his “shifty” right winger Tyler En­nis. John Tavares and Mitch Marner were just miss­ing on some cre­ative passes in their much an­tic­i­pated de­but, as Hy­man joins them. Josh Leivo was with a higher pro­file group he hopes leads him to steady work at left wing, while two un­known Swedes played with slick Finn Kasperi Ka­pa­nen on the fourth unit.

At least one of Fri­day’s lines will even­tu­ally change once Wil­liam Ny­lan­der’s con­tract is set­tled, but the re­stricted free agent and the team have a wide gulf on term and salary. For now, it’s En­nis, who was signed with an eye to be­ing a fourth line worker bee, with Matthews and Pa­trick Mar­leau.

“Some­times, things get old,” said Bab­cock of along stand­ing re­luc­tance to take Hy man away from Matthews’ flank the past two sea­sons. “It will be in­ter­est­ing to see how all that goes. Right now you have, Tavares, Hy­man and Marner and they’re just fly­ing, it’s a pretty good feel­ing. Willy’s not here, so we’ll fig­ure that out as time goes on.”

Matthews scored a nifty shootout win­ner in a 2-1 scrim­mage, go­ing head-to-head with Tavares.

“I thought we found each other out there a cou­ple of times,” Matthews said of En­nis.

The lat­ter put the moves on a cou­ple of de­fence­men in mak­ing rushes and from be­hind the net, where ev­ery­one thought he’d try and find Matthews through traf­fic, he weaved and nearly tucked in a back-door goal.

“I have to be shifty (Matthews’ de­scrip­tion of him),” En­nis said. “I’m not the biggest guy (5-10, 170) so I’ve learned to al­ways be mov­ing, shake de­fend­ers and cre­ate space for my­self.”

En­nis also had a shot block that Marner called “psy­cho” to at­tempt in a mean­ing­less camp game. But his con­tri­bu­tions to the Buf­falo Sabres, three 20-goal sea­sons, were for­got­ten when he strug­gled with the Min­nesota Wild in 2017-18.

Bab­cock also raved about Mar­leau’s speed, on the eve of his 39th birthday Satur­day.

En­nis say she’ s not pay­ing at­ten­tion to the Ny­lan­der ne­go­ti­a­tions, which have now been over­shad­owed by the start of camp. Bab­cock was also pleased that Mar ne rand Ta var es hit it off.

Though the line­ups in ac­tual ex­hi­bi­tion games next week will be more im­por­tant to mon­i­tor, Bab­cock bumped fre­quent healthy scratch Leivo up to the left side of Nazem Kadri and Con­nor Brown, while Ka­pa­nen was put with new Swedish cen­tre Par Lind­holm on a pro­jected fourth unit with left winger An­dreas Johns­son.

“A cou­ple of Swedes, I’m not happy about that,” quipped Kape­nen. “But we played well, so I’ll take it.”

The Baltic ri­valry chirp­ing went both ways, but Lind­holm is hop­ing to catch fire with any­one Bab­cock puts with him. He was a de­fen­sives tara few sea­sons at home, but when he gen­er­ated more of­fence last sea­son, many NHL teams called.

“I’ve played some hockey in my life,” said Lind­holm, wary of be­ing por­trayed a to­tal new­comer. “There’s def­i­nitely more speed here( he’ s spent the past few weeks try­ing to ad­just to shorter rink lengths ), more starts and stops and fast turns. They (Ka­pa­nen and Johns­son) are both young play­ers and have speed. Johns­son, mean­while knows that his el­e­ment of surprise is gone af­ter com­ing up from the Mar­lies and play­ing in six NHL play­off con­tests.

“I don’t feel I have a spot (guar­an­teed),” said Johns­son, a mem­ber of the Mar­lies’ Calder Cup cham­pi­ons. “Sure I had some games last sea­son, but I haven’t been here for a full one.”

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