Maple Leafs shak­ing up dis­ap­point­ing power play

Simcoe Reformer - - SPORTS - LANCE HORNBY

For all the aces he could play on the Maple Leafs power play, Mike Bab­cock is shuf­fling the deck.

Take away a 3- for- 3 night against the Florida Pan­thers be­fore Christ­mas and it’s 2- for40 the past five weeks, 1- for- 15 of late and ranked be­hind four other East­ern Con­fer­ence teams over­all. There have been re­cent dry sea­sons where the Leafs would con­sider bet­ter- than- 22 per cent pro­duc­tion rea­son to give bonuses to their as­sis­tant coaches, but not when top drawer tal­ent such as Aus­ton Matthews, John Tavares, Morgan Rielly and Mitch Marner are ca­pa­ble of more.

So, Bab­cock flipped Matthews with Kasperi Ka­pa­nen at prac­tice, to play the slot and wall with Tavares and Nazem Kadri hov­er­ing down low. The switch uti­lizes Ka­pa­nen’s speed and might re­store a bit of the Matthews– Wil­liam Ny­lan­der 5- on- 5 chem­istry with the sec­ond group given more real es­tate.

What­ever the case, it can’t hurt as Bab­cock watched re­cent game video with no one home to tip point shots that went wide and ex­ited the zone, while other teams be­gan cut­ting off the Marner to Matthews puck pipeline.

“It wasn’t go­ing the way we wanted,” summed up the coach. “When you ( stack) one group, you don’t have as much com­pe­ti­tion. I still like when you have two and com­pete to see who’s out there. We’ll see how it goes, we can al­ways change back at any time.”

This move comes as the sec­ond half of the sea­son be­gins and the count­down to the Feb. 25 NHL trade dead­line. The ru­mour mill is heat­ing up the Leafs might pur­sue home­towner Wayne Sim­monds to pro­vide bot­tom six mus­cle — and a power play net pres­ence. He’s no spring chicken at age 30, but has al­most 100 power- play goals.

In ad­mit­ting their short­com­ings, the power play par­tic­i­pants do credit the op­po­si­tion with us­ing the mod­ern tools of the pre- scout to dis­sect their strengths af­ter early sea­son suc­cess.

“Every­body watches video,” Matthews said. “Some­times, some­thing works for one game, you feel good and next game, that play’s not there. Maybe we got a bit too stale, bring­ing the same thing over and over again. It’s im­por­tant to switch it up, give them some­thing dif­fer­ent to put ( the penalty kill) back on their heels. I have no prob­lem with the switch.”

Matthews will be with Ny­lan­der, An­dreas Johns­son and Patrick Mar­leau, with Jake Gar­diner as the de­fence­man. Johns­son and Ka­pa­nen are Matthews’ cur­rent even strength wingers.

Marner and Rielly lead the team with 14 power- play points, Matthews has 11.

To il­lus­trate the Leaf co­nun­drum with the ex­tra man, they have 13 goals in two wins so far against Thurs­day night’s foe, the New Jer­sey Devils, but are 0- for- 7 on the power play against them head­ing into Ne­wark.

“It’s a good op­por­tu­nity for both units,” Tavares said. “What­ever ad­just­ments teams make, we’d like to be­lieve in our abil­ity and our foun­da­tion to over­come that. ( On the power play) we’re the team with one ex­tra guy, we want to take ad­van­tage of that.”

ERNEST DORO SZUK/ POST ME­DIA NEWS

Morgan Rielly, left, de­fends against Aus­ton Matthews on Wednes­day dur­ing a Maple Leafs prac­tice in Toronto.

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