Maple Leafs shak­ing up dis­ap­point­ing power play

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - 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.

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